Nadal faces tough road to U.S. Open title

NEW YORK (Reuters) - World number one Rafa Nadal faces the daunting prospect of possibly having to beat Roger Federer and Andy Murray to win the U.S. Open for the first time and complete his collection of grand slam titles.

Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia reacts during his match against Jurgen Melzer of Austria during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris May 31, 2010. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

The Spaniard will launch his championship campaign against unseeded Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili but was given no favors during Thursday’s official draw at Flushing Meadows.

If results go according to the rankings, the top seed will face the in-form Briton Murray in the semi-finals then Federer in the final, if the Swiss master successfully navigates his own tricky path to reach a seventh consecutive New York final.

Federer, seeded second, opens against Argentina’s Brian Dabul before a possible third round clash with former U.S. Open champion Lleyton Hewitt and a quarter-final showdown with Sweden’s Robin Soderling, the man he beat to win the French Open last year ahead complete his career grand slam.

If Federer survives that, he could then meet Serbia’s third seed Djokovic, the 2008 Australian Open champion, in the semi-finals of the two-week tournament starting Monday.

“The first four are of course the biggest favorites,” Djokovic told Reuters. “But you also have (Andy) Roddick, Soderling, (Tomas) Berdych, these guys have all played extremely well and have played finals of grand slams.”

Last year’s men’s champion, Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro, is unable to defend his title because of injury.

The women’s draw, weakened by the absence of injured world number one Serena Williams and former champion Justine Henin, is looming as one of the most open in years with at least a dozen players looming as genuine contenders.

Last year’s runner-up Caroline Wozniacki was promoted to top seed after the withdrawal of Williams while the defending champion Kim Clijsters was elevated to second seed, in the bottom half of the draw.

Clijsters completed a fairytale return to professional tennis last year after taking time out to start a family and then claiming her second U.S. Open title.

Her previous win was in 2005 but injury prevented her from defending her crown in 2006 and the Belgian said she was looking forward to finally returning to the courts as the reigning champion.

“This is a new experience for me,” she told Reuters. “Now that I’m a little bit older and I’ve been away for a little bit I feel a little bit more experienced and I can look back and my wins and losses and wins from the past in a completely different way.”

Clijsters will start her title defense against Hungarian Greta Arn but also has a draw littered with obstacles as she could meet Australia’s French Open finalist Samantha Stosur in the quarter-finals and Venus Williams in the semi-finals.

Williams, a two-times U.S. Open champion, was drawn to play Italian Roberta Vinci first up and is in the same quarter of the draw as Italy’s French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, who plays Japan’s Ayumi Morita in the first round.

Denmark’s Wozniacki, coming off a win at this week’s rain-delayed Montreal Cup, will begin her bid for a first grand slam title against American wildcard Chelsey Gullickson.

But Wozniacki faces a tantalizing fourth-round showdown with Maria Sharapova, who joins Svetlana Kuznetsova as former Russian U.S. Open champions in the same quarter.

Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic looms as a possible semi-final opponent in the top half of a draw that is notable for the absence of the imposing figure of Serena Williams.

Editing by Frank Pingue