Rafael Nadal’s mastery of the Monte Carlo clay courts seems to be over. The top-ranked Spaniard hopes his confidence isn’t gone, too.
Nadal lost to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer 7-6 (1), 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters on Friday, his earliest exit since 2003 at a tournament that helped build his reputation as perhaps the greatest clay-court player of all time. Nadal won eight consecutive titles here from 2005-12, before losing to Novak Djokovic in last year’s final.
This was Nadal’s first loss on clay to Ferrer since 2004, and the 13-time Grand Slam champion said he is still trying to find his best form after a disappointing loss to Stanislas Wawrinka in the Australian Open final.
“After what happened in Australia, (it) was little bit harder for me to find again the intensity, the confidence, the inside power that always I have,” Nadal said. “Even if I won Rio, I played the final in Miami, you know, (this) remains something in my mind and in my game.”
Djokovic looked like he might follow him out, but the Serb finally got the better of the unseeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to set up a 34th career meeting against 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.
Federer leads Djokovic 17-16 in head-to-heads and they are 1-1 this year, with Federer beating him in the Dubai Championship semifinals and Djokovic winning their final at Indian Wells.
The Serb was close to losing against Garcia-Lopez, saving a break point in the fifth game of the second set and two more when trailing 15-40 in his next service game. Djokovic then made a crucial break to take a 5-3 lead, served out the set, and then broke Garcia-Lopez twice at the start of the third.
Ferrer hardly needed to dig deep as Nadal committed 44 unforced errors and gave away 10 break-point chances on his serve. “I didn’t play the right way. I didn’t play with the right intensity with my forehand. I played too short,” Nadal said. “I give him the chance to have the control of the point almost all the time.”
A day after becoming the 11th man in the Open era to reach 300 wins on clay, Nadal was broken four times in the face of Ferrer’s relentless attack. “All losses feel bad but especially on clay,” Nadal said. “I’m not happy with how I’m playing.”
The first set-statistics make for ugly reading, with Nadal making only 54 percent of his first serves, and hitting a meager five winners on his normally trusty forehand.
Federer overcomes Tsonga
The sixth-seeded Ferrer next faces the third-seeded Wawrinka, who reached his first semifinal since the Australian Open by beating eighth-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada 7-6 (5), 6-2. Fourth-seeded Roger Federer also reached the last four in an error-strewn 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1 win against No.9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, where he was two points from defeat at 0-30 serving at 6-5 down in the second set.
Federer, who improved to 11-4 against Tsonga, wasted 15 straight break points and three set points in the second set But at 6-6 in the tiebreaker, Tsonga hit a wild forehand into the net and Federer leveled the match with a volley winner.
In men’s doubles, Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi lost to Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo 7-6 (4), 7-5 in the quarterfinals. In the pre-quarterfinals, Bopanna and Qureshi lost only three games against Lukas Kubot and Robert Lindstedt. The unseeded Indo-Pak pair scored a dominant 6-3, 6-0 win over the seventh seed Polish-Swede combo in just 54 minutes.
Crisis of confidence, admits Nadal
Monaco: Despite going into the Monte Carlo Masters on the back of another impressive unbeaten run on clay, Rafael Nadal admitted six months before his beloved French Open that he has been struggling with his confidence for months. The world number one, who was knocked out in the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters on Friday by fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, sustained a back injury at the Australian Open in January.
“I don’t have to lie to anybody. After what happened in Australia it was little bit harder for me to find again the intensity, the confidence, the inside power that I always have,” said Nadal after a 7-6(1) 6-4 defeat by Ferrer ended his 30-match winning run on clay. Nadal made an uncharacteristic 44 unforced errors against Ferrer on centre court, failing to find the right length as Ferrer never released his grip.
Asked if a back problem was responsible for his under-par performance, he replied: “No, no, the back is not an excuse. “No, the back is in good shape. The physical performance is fine. No problem about that.”
After losing the Australian Open final to Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka, Nadal won the Rio de Janeiro tournament on clay before being eliminated in the third round of the Indian Wells Masters and losing in the final of the Miami Masters to Novak Djokovic. “Even if I won Rio, I played the final in Miami, it remains something in my mind and in my game,” said Nadal. “I’m going to fight to try to find that solution soon.”
Nadal plays in the Barcelona Open next week, a tournament he has won every year since 2005, apart from 2010 when he did not take part. The French Open, which Nadal has won a record eight times, starts on May 25. (Reuters)