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PARIS, May 24 (Reuters) - Defending French Open champion Rafael Nadal was drawn in the same half as world number one Novak Djokovic on Friday as the Spanish claycourt machine chases a record eighth title at Roland Garros.
Third seed Nadal, who beat Djokovic in last year's final, could face the Serbian in the semis.
Nadal plays Daniel Brands of Germany in the first round and could face home hope Richard Gasquet in a potential quarter-final clash as the French men look to end a 30-year grand slam title drought.
Djokovic, who will open his Paris campaign against Belgian David Goffin, is also lined up for a possible third-round match against talented Bulgarian youngster Grigor Dimitrov.
Swiss Roger Federer, who has a record 17 grand slam titles to his name, has a smooth-looking path until a potential quarter-final against French sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
World number two Andy Murray pulled out with back problems and Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, ranked seventh, is also missing from the draw due to illness.
On the women's side, defending champion Maria Sharapova of Russia, the second seed, is in the same half as Belarussian third seed Victoria Azarenka.
World number one Serena Williams could meet Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, the fourth seed, in the semi-finals.
Williams will take on Georgia's Anna Tatishvili in the first round on her way to a potential quarter-final match-up with former world number one Caroline Wozniacki who will start against Britain's Laura Robson.
Sharapova's main threat could come from Australian ninth seed Samantha Stosur, the 2010 runner-up, in a possible quarter-final.
Sharapova was drawn against Taipei's Hsieh Su-Wei in the frist round. (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond)