Nadal has exited his last two clay tournaments in the semi-finals..

Rafael Nadal's time at the top is well and truly running out

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There was once a time in the not-too-distant past when you could bank on Rafael Nadal to win a clay tournament whenever it was played.

In the last few weeks, however, the world's number five has twice lost on the surface he loves most and failed to make even a final.

At the Argentina Open on February 13, he suffered a shock defeat to Austrian Dominic Thiem - a rising star of the game - in the semi-finals.


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He lost again at the same stage the following week, this time at the Rio Open, to the largely unknown Pablo Cuevas, who recently cracked the top 30 players in the world.

The concern for Nadal is that the gap between the top four and himself seems to be growing by the month, especially so given he is 1,500 ranking points behind world number four, Stan Wawrinka.

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The fact he is frequently losing to far inferior players is also a cause to question whether Nadal's time at the top is indeed up.

Cast your minds back to Wimbledon 2015, when the Spaniard lost to Dustin Brown, and to the US Open, when Fabio Fognini recovered from a two-set deficit to emerge victorious - these are the sort of opponents Nadal should be comfortably beating, no matter the surface.

That trend has continued into 2016, with Nadal's slump undoubtedly a result of his well-documented injury woes in recent years.

Rio Open 2016 - Day 6

Regardless of what happens during the latter stages of his career, he will still go down as one of tennis' greatest players.

But it's conceivable that we've seen the best of Nadal, and tennis fans will only hope he has a few more memories to deliver before eventually calling time on a career that could have been so much better.

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Rafael Nadal

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