Nadal Blames Fatigue for Bad Performance

Tuesday, October 24th 2006, 1:14 pm

By: News On 6

PARIS (AP) _ For Rafael Nadal, the explanation is clear: fatigue and a heavy schedule.

The second-ranked Spaniard has not reached the semifinals of a tournament since losing to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final three months ago.

``I had a lot of matches in the first half of the season and my muscles were very tired,'' Nadal said Tuesday during a conference call leading to next week's Paris Masters. ``Mentally, too ... it was a big effort. I am playing better now.''

Nadal has won five titles this year, including a victory over Federer in the French Open final in June. A month later, the top-ranked Swiss won his fourth straight Wimbledon title by beating Nadal in the final.

Nadal also said he has recovered from foot and ankle injuries _ he skipped the Australian Open in January because of an ailing left foot.

``This is my first year after an important injury so you have to be careful,'' Nadal said. ``I feel fine now, but when you have an injury like I had last year it stays in your mind, so you have to be wary.''

Nadal also has to be wary of Federer, who won his 10th title of year on Sunday at the Madrid Masters.

``I think he is playing his best tennis now,'' Nadal said. ``He is the best for sure right now. ... He is playing unbelievable.''

At the Paris Masters, which starts Monday, Nadal may get another chance to face Tomas Berdych, who is the defending champion.

The 10th-ranked Czech beat Nadal in the quarterfinals at Madrid last week, and the loss upset the Spanish fans so much they badgered Berdych during his semifinal loss to Fernando Gonzalez.

``It is better we don't speak about that. Better to speak about Paris and the next tournament,'' Nadal said. ``Something happened on court, but let's forget it. I don't want to think about Berdych.''

Looking toward next year, Nadal predicted that young players will make their mark.

``There are so many coming through, like Berdych, (Richard) Gasquet, (Novak) Djokovic and (Andrew) Murray,'' Nadal said. ``They will expect to finish in the top 25 this year, and a lot of them will be in the top 10 next year.''

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