Nadal, Safina get top seeds
PARIS -- Rafael Nadal's most recent matches were a loss to Roger Federer and a four-hour struggle to beat Novak Djokovic, both on clay, so the French Open draw brought a bit of good news Friday for the four-time defending champion.
Federer and Djokovic are lined up to meet in the semifinals, meaning the top-seeded Nadal could only face one of them as he bids to become the first man to win the clay-court Grand Slam tournament five consecutive years.
Not that Nadal is looking ahead to a potential final against one of those two. Or even a possible semifinal against No. 3 Andy Murray. Indeed, the Spaniard won't even acknowledge he feels any sort of pressure to add to his 28-0 record at Roland Garros, where play starts Sunday.
"My only pressure is try to play good tennis, try to play well, and later we will see what happens, no?" Nadal said. "The tournament is always really tough. Long matches, against the best players of the world, no? So we will see."
Serena and Venus Williams were drawn into opposite sides of the tournament and could meet in the championship match. Serena beat Venus in the 2002 final for the family's only singles title at Roland Garros; they have won 16 majors elsewhere.
Federer reiterated Friday that he got "a big boost" from winning last weekend's Madrid Open final, ending Nadal's 33-match winning streak on clay. Djokovic, meanwhile, derives confidence from having held three match points in a narrow semifinal loss to Nadal in Madrid.
"Getting closer and closer. So there's only one more point to go," said Djokovic, the 2008 Australian Open champion. "I played probably one of the best matches in my life against him on the clay court, even though I lost it. I must be proud of myself."
Federer, too, took heart from seeing what happened in that semifinal.
"When someone dominates a surface like Rafa does, it's good to see that he almost lost to Djokovic -- that it's doable, if you play well," Federer said. "If each year he wins 40 matches on clay, and you never manage to beat him, it's obvious that you become more pessimistic."
Federer's bid to win his first French Open championship -- and tie Pete Sampras with a record 14th major singles title -- will start against Alberto Martin of Spain.
Nadal was drawn to face a qualifier in the first round and could meet two-time major champion Lleyton Hewitt in the third, then 14th-seeded David Ferrer in the fourth. Hewitt's first match is against No. 26 Ivo Karlovic, the 6-foot-11 player from Croatia who upset him in the first round at Wimbledon in 2003, when Hewitt was the reigning champion.
Murray's first opponent is Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina, a 2004 French Open quarterfinalist whose four career tour titles all came on clay and who once was ranked 15th. Chela missed the past three major tournaments because of a herniated disc.
"He's obviously a tough clay-court player," Murray said. "Definitely can't afford to look past him."
The potential men's quarterfinals are Nadal vs. No. 8 Fernando Verdasco in what would be rematch of a five-set thriller in the Australian Open semis; Murray vs. No. 7 Gilles Simon; Federer vs. No. 6 Andy Roddick; and Djokovic vs. No. 5 Juan Martin Del Potro.
The possible women's quarterfinals are Safina vs. defending champion Ana Ivanovic; No. 2 Serena Williams vs. No. 7 Svetlana Kuznetsova; No. 3 Venus Williams vs. No. 6 Vera Zvonareva; and No. 4 Elena Dementieva vs. No. 5 Jelena Jankovic.
Maria Sharapova will play Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus in her first Grand Slam match since Wimbledon last year. Sharapova returned to the tour this week after missing nearly 10 months due to a shoulder injury and is not seeded.
Serena won the last two Grand Slam tournaments, but has lost her past four matches while dealing with a bad knee.
"I don't think I'm the favorite coming in," she said. "I'm glad to be here more than anything."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
2009 FRENCH OPEN
Women's singles: Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia
Roger Federer, Switzerland
Men's doubles: Lukas Dlouhy, Czech Republic and Leander Paes, India
Women's doubles: Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual, Spain
Mixed doubles: Liezel Huber and Bob Bryan, United States
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