Nadal faces tricky path to grand slam sweep

Melbourne: Rafa Nadal will take on Brazilian world number 96 Marcos Daniel in his first round of the Australian Open but faces a rocky path in his bid to become the first man to hold all four grand slam crowns simultaneously since Rod Laver in 1969.

The Spanish world number one faces a potentially tricky third-round hurdle against 31st-seeded countryman Feliciano Lopez or big-serving 20th seed American John Isner.

Nadal could then line up a possible fourth round encounter with 15th seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, a semi-finalist last year.

Defending champion Roger Federer, bidding for a record fifth Australian Open title, has a more favourable path, playing world number 99 Lukas Lacko of Slovakia in the first round, with 12th-ranked Gael Monfils of France a possible fourth-round opponent.

Should Federer survive that, the Swiss world number two may face former US Open champion Andy Roddick in the quarter-finals.

Fifth seed Andy Murray, who carries Britain`s hopes of ending a 75-year wait for a men`s grand slam champion, should have little trouble negotiating his way past 104th-ranked Slovak Karol Beck in the first round.

But the much-improved Jurgen Melzer of Austria or former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis may await in the third round, before the possibility of a mouthwatering quarter-final clash with Swede Robin Soderling.

Novak Djokovic, the 2008 champion, should be happy with the draw, and shouldn`t face his first real test until the fourth round against 14th-seeded Spaniard Nicolas Almagro.

"In my mind (Nadal and Federer) are pretty far clear, but as you saw at Wimbledon for example Berdych played extremely well and came to the finals, but yet it was Rafa who won," former two-time Australian Open champion Ivan Lendl said.

"It`s one thing to get to the semis or to the finals, and it`s another thing then to make the final step, because it takes experience as well."

Bureau Report