Nalbandian destroys Nadal's perfect Paris record

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The Independent Online

By Jerome Pugmire, AP Writer

Rafael Nadal again found no answer to David Nalbandian's big backhand and booming return of serve.

Nalbandian beat Nadal 6-4, 6-0 in the final of the Paris Masters on yesterday — two weeks after ousting the Spaniard in straight sets on his way to winning the Madrid Masters.

The second-ranked Nadal played with both knees taped in his first final since July, but said that was not the reason he lost.

"I had a big problem: Nalbandian," Nadal said. "Today I played against the one who is playing better than me and than the rest of the players, too."

The Argentine player broke Nadal in the ninth game of a tight first set and three times in the second. He clinched the match with a forehand that bounced off the net and landed inside the line.

"All week I was playing great, and I don't know why the result was so easy," Nalbandian said. "After I broke him, I felt that I was playing better than him. I play more relaxed, start hitting winners almost from everywhere. That gave me confidence."

Nadal said his overall performance this week was better in Madrid. Still, being blanked in a set for the first time since May 20 hurt his pride.

"I am happy with my tournament. I am not happy about the loss today," Nadal said. "I'm not happy about my second set because I played very badly."

Nalbandian, who will improve to ninth in the ATP rankings, also eliminated top-seeded Roger Federer in the third round, but said he still has some way to go before he can challenge the Swiss star for the No. 1-spot.

"You have to play like this all season," he said. "It's not easy playing like this in clay, in hard, in grass or indoors. I think the only guy who can do that at the moment is Roger. He's done that for four years."

Nadal lost the second set in 27 minutes as his serve fell apart. The three-time French Open champion won only 17 percent of his second-serve points and had five winners to Nalbandian's 25.

"He's the best returner in the world," Nadal said. "With the second serve, it's very difficult."

It was Nadal's first final since beating Stanislas Wawrinka to win the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, Germany, on July 22.

It was Nadal's first defeat in 26 matches in Paris, as he has never lost at the French Open, where he is 21-0. He had also not lost a set 6-0 since losing the decider to Federer in the Hamburg Masters final on May 20.

Nalbandian is the first player since Marat Safin of Russia in 2004 to win Madrid and Paris back to back.

Before Madrid, Nalbandian had reached only one quarterfinal in 15 tournaments this season and said he was hampered by knee and back injuries for nearly six months.

"I was injured the first part of the year," Nalbandian said. "So it wasn't very easy for me to come back and play good tennis."

The win means Nalbandian is first alternate for the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai, which features the top eight players in the ATP race. Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Nikolay Davydenko, Andy Roddick, David Ferrer, Fernando Gonzalez and Richard Gasquet will play in the Masters Cup, which starts Nov. 11.