Nadal handed treacherous path to fifth French Open title

Updated: May 21, 2010, 19:17 PM IST

Paris: Favourite Rafael Nadal must negotiate a tricky path in his bid for a fifth French Open title following Friday`s draw for the claycourt grand slam starting on Sunday.

World number two Nadal, however, did not seem to worried by his fate as he was spotted practising on a sunbathed centre court while holders Roger Federer and Svetlana Kuznetsova were making the draw.

Nadal, beaten for the first time at Roland Garros last year, is in the same half as fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco and third seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia.

Following a first-round match against Frenchman Gianni Mina, the Spaniard could meet Australian Lleyton Hewitt and big-serving Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia before a possible quarter-final against Verdasco and a semi-final clash with Djokovic.

Nadal, wearing a white cap back to front, practised for more than an hour on centre court, looking relaxed as he punished his sparring partner with his trademark forehand winners in front of his uncle and coach Toni Nadal.

Fourth-seeded Andy Murray, gunning for his first grand-slam title, will face gifted Frenchman Richard Gasquet and the Paris crowd in a treacherous first round.

Murray lost two of his three matches against Gasquet but won the last one in a memorable five-set thriller at Wimbledon in 2008.

World number one Federer takes on Australian Peter Luczak in the first round en route to a possible fifth French Open final against Nadal, whom he has never beaten at Roland Garros.

He could face France`s Gael Monfils in the fourth round and Swede Robin Soderling, whom he defeated in last year`s final to win his first and only Paris crown.

In the women`s draw, four-times champion Justine Henin, back from 20 months in retirement, got a difficult draw with a possible third-round clash with Russia`s Maria Sharapova.

A quarter-final match-up with world number one Serena Williams, who takes on Swiss Stefanie Voegele in the first round, looms for the 22nd-seeded Belgian.

Holder Kuznetsova, seeded sixth, is in the other half, and had an easier draw with a possible quarter-final match against Dane Caroline Wozniacki, the third seed.

She then could face second seed Venus Williams in the semi-finals, but the American will not have it easy to get there.

She takes on Swiss Patty Schnyder in the first round before a possible fourth-round encounter with either Russian Nadia Petrova or France`s Aravane Rezai, who beat her in the final in Madrid last Sunday.

Bureau Report