Rafael Nadal has admitted that he is struggling for form at the moment after suffering another shock defeat a few days ago, according to ESPN.
For the second time in as many weeks, Nadal was knocked out of quarter-finals on clay against Spanish compatriots. On Friday Nicolas Almagro sent the world no.1 packing from the Barcelona Open with a 2-6 7-6 6-4 win. It was a competition that Nadal was aiming to win for a ninth consecutive time.
Also aiming for a ninth-title win, the 27-year-old perished in the Monte Carlo Masters a fortnight ago to world no.5 David Ferrer. That straight sets win was Ferrer's first between the pair in a decade.
While he continues to sit pretty at the top of the world rankings, Nadal has fared relatively poorly by his own deeply swelled standards.
He was runner-up in the only Grand Slam of the year, to-date, in Australia against first-time winner Stanislas Wawrinka, and he won two Masters events at Qatar and Brazil either side of that.
However, since then, the 13-time Grand Slam winner has been without a singles title. A loss in the final of the Miami Masters to rival and world no.2 Novak Djokovic is as close as he has come.
After losing against world no.20 Almagro in the tournament that Japan star Kei Nishikori went on to win, Nadal bemoaned his form.
"It was not my day. I felt I did a lot of things well to win the match, but at the end, [there] remained a little bit. Just accept the situation and keep fighting," he said.
The left-hander admitted that he still has a few areas to work on to get back to his scintillating best.
"A little bit of rhythm, a little bit of intensity, playing a little bit more regular.
"To play well on clay, I need to be more stable with my game."
Nadal will know that time is running out to iron out the faults in his game before he plots his assault for a ninth French Open title. His dominance at Roland Garros has led to a 'King of Clay' tag but challengers will sense this could be their year to shine through.
Back-to-back Masters 1000 series' in Madrid and then Rome will provide the best preparation before the action kicks-off in Paris.
While Nadal may be feeling wounded by Monte Carlo and Barcelona defeats, if he was to lose for only the second time of his career on the French dirt it could be fatal to his mind-set. Only Roger Federer and Pete Sampras have won more Grand Slams Championships and by July he could have surpassed the latter.
Victories at Roland Garros and a third Wimbledon title would leave him just two behind the 17-total set by the still-active Swiss star.
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