Rafael Nadal has insisted he can finish the season on a high, despite his early exit at the China Open - his first tournament since recovering from injury.
The former world no.1 had looked impressive in Beijing, he didn't lose a single in first two matches against Richard Gasquet and Peter Gojowczyk, but Martin Klizan - the qualifier from Slovakia - swiftly ended his progress in the quarter-finals with a surprising win.
It certainly wasn't the instant return to brilliance that fans of the Spaniard might have expected, but the 28-year-old has missed a major amount of time.
Nadal hasn't been able to grace the courts since being knocked out at Wimbledon's fourth round by Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios. His troublesome wrist issue forced him to miss three title defences on North American hard courts, including the Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows.
The world no.2's absence has allowed the likes of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to build some momentum towards the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals at London's O2 Arena, and Nadal admits his lay-off makes it harder to compete.
“I knew for me it’s probably going to be hard, this last part of the season," he said following his defeat by Klizan.
"It will not be easy after what happened.
"Always when you are outside for a few months, as I said the other day, it is not the same as if you are coming back the next season and everybody starts from zero. You are coming back now, and the other players are on the road, are in rhythm. Physically you feel more tired.
“But on the other side I did well in the past after an injury…I am positive that I can be ready soon and be ready to compete well against everybody soon.”
Unlike some high-profile stars, Nadal doesn't need to find any ranking points to qualify for the Tour Finals. He, along with Djokoivc and Federer, has already qualified, thanks largely to his French Open title; his eighth at Roland Garros and 14th Grand Slam success in total.
Nonetheless, Nadal will be slightly concerned at his inability to take advantage of good opportunities against Klizan.
After winning the first set, Nadal also found himself a break to the good in the second and third sets, but he let them slip against an opponent who has never graced the world's top 25. Third seed Tomas Berdych would have been Nadal's next challenger in the Chinese capital.
The Majorcan-born superstar has insisted that he is prepared to put in the hours to improve eventually, however.
“I have to think about it day-by-day, trying to do the best as possible to do it again quickly. But I need time," Nadal continued.
"I’m going to fight for it. I’m going to work hard with the right attitude to play better than what I did today. I’m going to try. I will be happy if I finish the season, take one week and a half holidays, and to practise one month with perfect conditions to try to start the next season with positive feelings."
Nadal's time in Asia isn't over yet though. The tennis world won't be leaving China straight-away, instead they will reconvene in Shanghai for a Masters 1000 tournament just next week.
Djokovic will be looking to defend his crown from last year, while Nadal will be chomping at the bit to have another face-off with his great rival. They haven't met since the Serbian was denied the chance to complete his set of Grand Slam titles at the French Open final earlier this year.
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