PARIS (AP) — 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.
"I started very poorly. Garcia-Lopez played well and I had to work for this win," Djokovic said. "I finally started to play as I wanted in the second set."
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.
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.
"It was just many things went wrong at the wrong time for me: Jo playing well, me playing wrong at certain times, wrong shot selections," Federer said. "I'm happy I found the way to tough it out."
Tsonga said the changing conditions in the late afternoon as the match went into a third set suited Federer's style of play more.
"I don't think it was that much of a change. I don't think there was any wind change or any crazy, like, quickness change," Federer said. "We played in those conditions a million of times."