NONTHABURI, Thailand – Less than three weeks after completing his career Grand Slam, Rafael Nadal was a long way from his command performance at the U.S. Open.
The top-ranked Spaniard was knocked out of the Thailand Open on Saturday, losing 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3 to 53rd-ranked Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the semifinals.
"It's a difficult loss to accept," Nadal said. "It's one of those matches you are going to lose once every two years."
Nadal defeated two Spaniards — Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco — on his way to his first U.S. Open crown. This time, he was undone by another of his countrymen and converted only two of 26 break-point opportunities.
Garcia-Lopez delivered a string of winners and flat, wide serves that included 10 aces in a performance that astounded him.
"Everything was fantastic," he said. "For the moment, I'm a bit shocked."
On Sunday, Garcia-Lopez will play his second ATP final of the season. He will face 60th-ranked Jarkko Nieminen of Finland, who beat Benjamin Becker of Germany 6-3, 6-2.
Nadal was trying to capture his seventh title of the year. This was his first tournament since he overpowered Novak Djokovic in the final in New York and became the seventh man to win a career Grand Slam. Nadal plays next at the Shanghai Masters, beginning Oct. 10.
Signs of trouble emerged in the second set when Garcia-Lopez started dictating important shots. At one stage, he whipped a shot deep to the Spaniard's backhand and forced him to throw his racket in an unsuccessful attempt to reach the ball.
"He played a great match, especially in the third," Nadal said. "I had a great chance to be in the final. I have to blame myself that I didn't play aggressive when I had a chance to break. He served well on break points. I lost chance after chance."
Garcia-Lopez rode his momentum through the third set, applying pressure and forcing errors by Nadal.
"I've never beaten a No. 1 player in the world," Garcia-Lopez said. "I think this is the best victory in my career."
Nieminen reached his first final of the year with sharp groundstrokes and an accurate first serve.
"I feel great," Nieminen said. "I haven't been in a final for a while, the last time was in Sydney 2009."
The Finn has not dropped a set in his run to the final, including wins over No. 7-seeded Viktor Troicki in the second round and No. 3-seeded Jurgen Melzer in the quarterfinals.