Rafael Nadal will be looking for a ninth title in this week's Barcelona Open to make up for a disappointing showing in the Monte Carlo Masters five days ago.
He is classed as the 'King of Clay' but the Spaniard's crown was rattled by compatriot David Ferrer in the quarter-finals on Good Friday. A ninth title was the target in the principality too, and his loss was thoroughly unexpected. Stanislas Wawrinka went on to win the final against fellow Switzerland star Roger Federer.
The recent good form of Wawrinka, along with the resurgence of Federer and the continuing threat of Novak Djokovic mean that Nadal's world no.1 tag is being severely threatened. Despite the competition, though, he managed to keep the number one spot in the updated rankings.
However, there are concerns that Nadal has lost some of his dominance on clay. While the 13-time Grand Slam champion admits that he is out-of-form, confidence remains high that he will be able to turn things around.
"I started the season OK except for some lack of confidence and competitiveness in important moments of certain matches," the Spaniard told ESPN.
"I've faced adversities throughout my career, and this is just another one."
There is possibly no better place for Nadal to hit back than in his homeland, a tournament in which he has only ever been beaten once.
“The Barcelona Open has always been special for me,” he claimed to ATP's website.
“Always great support from the crowd, a lot of success in the past years for me. I hope to be ready to compete again here, compete well.”
Perhaps there is added incentive for the left-hander to romp to further success in Catalan country as well. Four of the eight finals wins to date have been against Monte Carlo tormentor Ferrer. The dogged 32-year-old will be looking to make it fifth time lucky.
Part of the shock last week was down to the fact that it was Ferrer's first win on clay in their head-to-head battle in over 10 years. However Nadal thinks he may now be in a better position to challenge after assessing what went wrong.
“I’m enjoying the rest these few days after losing Monte-Carlo so I hope to be well-prepared for this tournament,” he continued.
“I have to play with a little more intensity in my legs, play a little more aggressive.”
Some big names are sitting this year's event out, and the main challenging pack have some experience of losing to Nadal here.
As well as Ferrer, Tommy Robredo and Nicolas Almagro have fallen at the final hurdle to the dominant star; they will be looking to hit back. The likes of Fabio Fognini and Kei Nishikori will also be in contention.
After receiving a bye into round two; Nadal will kick his defence off against another Spaniard, Albert Ramos, after he beat former world no.3 Nikolay Davydenko 6-4 6-4 in the first round today.
This week will provide more preparation time as the French Open looms on the horizon. In the only clay Grand Slam, Nadal will be looking for a record ninth title there too when that commences in May.
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