14 Jan 2011

No easy ride for Rafa in Australian Open

3:43 pm on 14 January 2011

Rafael Nadal will take on Brazilian world number 96 Marcos Daniel in his first round of the Australian Tennis 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 U.S. 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.