Rafael Nadal's mastery of the Monte Carlo clay courts seems to be over.
The top-ranked Spaniard hopes his confidence isn't gone, too.
Nadal lost to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer 7-6 (1), 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters on Friday, his earliest exit since 2003 at a tournament that helped build his reputation as perhaps the greatest clay-court player of all time. Nadal won eight consecutive titles here from 2005-12, before losing to Novak Djokovic in last year's final.
This was his first loss on clay to Ferrer since 2004, and the 13-time Grand Slam champion said he is still trying to find his best form after a disappointing loss to Stanislas Wawrinka in the Australian Open final.
"After what happened in Australia, (it) was little bit harder for me to find again the intensity, the confidence, the inside power that always I have," Nadal said. "Even if I won Rio, I played the final in Miami, you know, (this) remains something in my mind and in my game."
Ferrer hardly needed to dig deep, either, as Nadal committed 44 unforced errors and gave away 10 break-point chances on his serve.
"The feeling on court was not the best one," Nadal said. "I didn't play the right way. I didn't play with the right intensity with my forehand. I played too short. I give him the chance to have the control of the point almost all the time."
The sixth-seeded Ferrer next faces the third-seeded Wawrinka, who reached his first semifinal since the Australian Open by beating eighth-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada 7-6 (5), 6-2. Fourth-seeded Roger Federer also reached the last four in an error-strewn 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1 win against No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, where he was two points from defeat at 0-30 serving at 6-5 down in the second set.
Federer, who improved to 11-4 against Tsonga, wasted 15 straight break points and three set points in the second set But at 6-6 in the tiebreaker, Tsonga hit a wild forehand into the net and Federer leveled the match with a volley winner.
After finally breaking Tsonga at the 16th try, Federer clenched his fist in relief. He broke him again with a forehand winner down the line and held for 5-0.
Djokovic played Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain later.
A day after becoming the 11th man in the Open era to reach 300 wins on clay, Nadal was broken four times in the face of Ferrer's relentless attack.
"It was a tough loss, all losses feel bad but especially on clay," Nadal said. "I'm not playing well right now and I'm not happy with how I'm playing."
He dropped his opening service game, broke back in a game lasting 16 minutes, double-faulted to lose his next serve, and broke Ferrer again with a cross-court winner. Nadal saved break points in the next game, too, before making it 3-3.
The tiebreaker was all about Nadal's mistakes. He lost it by making three straight unforced errors. The first set-statistics make for ugly reading, with Nadal making only 54 percent of his first serves, and hitting a meager five winners on his normally trusty forehand.
"He's not a machine, no?" Ferrer said. "Sometimes he can play not so good."
Ferrer broke him with a neat pass down the line and held for 3-1 in the second set to seize control. A despondent Nadal then hit a sloppy forehand long to trail by 5-2.
"I played entirely wrong in the second set," Nadal said.
Ferrer stayed calm, setting up match point with a powerful forehand winner to the right corner, and won when Nadal's backhand hit the net.
Wawrinka reached the semis five years ago, losing to Djokovic.
Ferrer leads him 7-5 overall in their head-to-heads but Wawrinka has won the past two matches.