Rafael Nadal has admitted that his recent poor form has allowed doubts to creep into his mind ahead of the Madrid Open.
Home supporters of the Spaniard will flock to the capital over the next week, and they will be fully expecting the 'King of Clay' to show - on his favoured surface - exactly why he is the world no.1.
They could be left disappointed though; crowds at the recent Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open were expecting Nadal to breeze to ninth titles, at both locations, but it wasn't to be.
Quarter-final defeats against unfancied opponents have left the Manacor-born star scratching his head as the French Open looms large on the horizon.
In the principality it was David Ferrer who picked up his first clay win over Nadal in a decade, while another compatriot, Nicolas Almagro, stormed to victory in Barcelona.
Nadal admits his patchy performances have left a sour taste in his mouth.
"Losing always creates doubts, anyone who tells you the opposite is lying," he said ahead of the first of two back-to-back Masters 1000 series', the other being in Rome.
"There is no benefit in losing. The easiest thing is to keep winning because everything comes naturally without thinking.
"When you lose you think more about where to move on the court, where to hit the ball, but that is what has happened and, as I have said various times, you cannot win in Monte Carlo or Barcelona 12 times.
"To lose twice in the quarter-finals is normal. Perhaps what has been abnormal is what has happened in recent years."
Tennis' 'big four' will all be competing on the Spanish dirt; Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and the returning Andy Murray have all won at least once at this event. Madrid and Rome provide the last big tests before the action at Roland Garros kicks-off on May 25th.
The top eight seeds all received byes into round two. Nadal will launch his defense of the title against either Jurgen Melzer or Juan Monaco.
Aside from last year, the 13-time Grand Slam Champion was also victorious in 2010 and 2005. Therefore he is hoping to banish the demons and collect a fourth gong.
"I feel a bit better and I am desperate to play in this tournament because it is always special for me," he continued.
"The energy this tournament gives me is a bit different and hopefully you will see that on court."
Nadal knows that he can ill-afford another failure if he is to retain his number one ranking. Should he slip-up before the last-eight, Djokovic can take his spot on top of the world with a win in the final.
The two rivals were drawn in different halves of the draw, but the likelihood is that Federer or Murray are destined to stand in his way at some point.
An improved display will quell some of the fears that Nadal has lost his touch on the clay. He couldn't pick a worse time to struggle, with a record ninth French Open title on-the-line soon.
Losing in Paris is an alien concept to the left-hander, only Robin Soderling has ever inflicted it upon him - that was way back in 2009. He doesn't have long to iron out the errors before the watching world casts its beady eye over the under-pressure favourite.
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