(Repeats removing reference to Nadal missing Wimbledon in third para)
By Julien Pretot
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.
“But is not in the first round, no?,” Nadal joked when asked how he felt about his potential meeting with Djokovic in a news conference.
Nadal has won five titles on clay this season after missing more than seven months of tennis and sitting out the U.S. and Australian Opens.
“If you can ask me if I win one grand slam during the whole year or win six tournaments like I already did, I will choose win six tournaments,” he said.
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 opens 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.
Asked if she felt as good as in her golden years, Williams told a news conference: “I think so. Just looking back at a few of my matches years ago and looking now, I definitely feel like I‘m getting into that zone that I have always wanted to be in, and I feel a lot better about it.”
Sharapova’s main threat could come from Australian ninth seed Samantha Stosur, the 2010 runner-up, in a possible quarter-final.
Sharapova, who was drawn against Taipei’s Hsieh Su-Wei in the first round, withdrew from the Italian Open because of illness last week, but she is now fine.
“I have been practising for almost five or six days now, which has been nice,” she told a news conference.
“I haven’t been back since my victory (at the French Open), so it has been nice to be able to practise on the courts when it’s quiet and be back on centre court.”
Editing by Ed Osmond