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Federer, Nadal in same half of Australian Open draw

MELBOURNE, Australia, January 13- Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are in the same half of a grand slam for the first time in seven years after the draw made Friday for next week’s Australian Open in Melbourne.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic has world number four Andy Murray in the top half of the men’s singles draw, while Nadal and Federer, second and third ranked respectively, were placed for the bottom half.

It is the first time since the 2005 French Open that 16-time grand slam champion Federer and 10-time major winner Nadal have been pitted in the same half of a grand slam draw.

The draw means that if they progress, the quartet will meet in the last four with Djokovic and Murray on collision course and Federer and Nadal eyeing a semi-final clash.

Djokovic, who won three of the four grand slams and five Masters titles in a remarkable 2011, begins his Australian Open title defence against Italy’s Paolo Lorenzi.

“I didn’t play in any lead-up tournaments (to the Open) because I played a lot of matches in 2011 and I felt that I didn’t have to perform in the first week of the season,” Djokovic said at the draw.

“I feel comfortable with preparing for an extra week … I hope it works.

“I arrived last Wednesday, for the last five-six years I haven’t arrived in Melbourne this early so I think I have enough time to prepare for the conditions.”

Last year’s Australian Open final triumph over Murray was the first of seven straight tournament wins for Djokovic in a 41-match winning streak that was finally ended by Federer in the semi-finals of the French Open.

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“I was playing the best tennis of my life, especially in the opening six months of last season and one of the strongest moments was in Australia last year,” Djokovic said.

“I lost only one set in the tournament and I played incredible especially in the later rounds of the event, that’s something that gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the year.”

Nadal and Federer will start against qualifiers, while two-time finalist Murray, bidding to become Britain’s first male major winner since Fred Perry in 1936, takes on American Ryan Harrison.

If they progress, Djokovic could face Spanish fifth seed David Ferrer in the quarter-finals while Murray may meet 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the French sixth seed.

Federer, a four-time Australian Open champion, could play American eighth seed Mardy Fish in the quarters, while Nadal, who won in Melbourne in 2009, is drawn to face Czech seventh seed Tomas Berdych.

Nineteen-year old Australian Bernard Tomic, who reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon and is ranked 37, faces Spanish 22nd seed Fernando Verdasco in one of big first round match-ups in Nadal’s half of the draw.

The Australian Open starts on Monday.

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