Nadal: 'I Played One Of My Worst Matches In 14 Years'
Rafael Nadal is the first to admit that very little went according to plan on Saturday. The second seed and 11-time champion suffered just the fifth defeat of his career at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, succumbing to Fabio Fognini 6-4, 6-2 in one hour and 36 minutes.
It was one of the upsets of the year thus far on the ATP Tour, as Fognini beat Nadal at his own clay-court game and in his own playground, cranking up the intensity and dictating on his terms. Over the years, the Spaniard has secured some of his greatest achievements at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, but on this day he admits he was not at his best.
"The vision was clear, but I played a very bad match against a good player, so in that situation, you have to lose," Nadal told the assembled media in Monte-Carlo. "That's what I did this afternoon. It was a tough day and he was a difficult opponent.
"It was this kind of day that everything went wrong. I probably played one of the worst matches on clay in 14 years. And today I deserved to lose because I played against a player that was better than me."
Nadal entered Saturday's encounter with an 11-3 lead in their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry. He had notched six straight victories since suffering a shock defeat at the 2015 US Open, but as the wind whipped across Court Rainier III, tricky conditions compounded the reigning champion's struggles.
The 11-time titlist captured his 70th match win at his most successful ATP Masters 1000 event on Thursday, and would add No. 71 a day later. But No. 72 will have to wait until next year. Nadal says that while he always expects the best from himself, there are some days that it isn't good enough.
"I always expect the best, but you have to be ready to accept the negative things. And that's it. It's just an opportunity lost in a very important event for me. I'm sad for that, of course. But it's true that even if that was a good chance for me to start the clay court season in a perfect way, it didn't happen.
"We can talk about technical or tactical things, but it is the kind of day that the feeling is not there at all. When this happens, it is difficult to find an explanation for the rest."
It was just over a month ago that Nadal withdrew from the BNP Paribas Open due to a right knee injury, ahead of a semi-final clash with Roger Federer. He would also pull out of the Miami Open presented by Itau the following week. But, back on his favourite surface and in his familiar Monte-Carlo confines, he refused to drop a set en route to the semis.
While Nadal admits it is difficult to accept his latest performance, he believes that his game is still a work in progress in his return to action. Injuries take their toll, both physically and mentally, and there is never a precise road to recovery.
"I am coming from low moments in terms of injuries, and in terms of the mental side it has not been easy to accept all the things that have been going on," Nadal continued. "The problem is that sometimes we are used to being very, very solid all the time, and even coming back from injuries, winning and winning and winning, and things are not that easy.
"It is more difficult to hold the same level every single day when you don't have confidence in tournaments in a row or matches in a row. And that's what I needed. Even if I have been very competitive all the tournaments that I have been playing, all these stops create some instability... That's why I have been able to win all the things that I won, especially on clay. But it is always more difficult when all these things are going on."
Nadal will next compete at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell in the coming week. Seeking an unprecedented 12th title, he opens against either Marius Copil or Leonardo Mayer. A potential 2018 championship rematch against Stefanos Tsitsipas looms large in the quarter-finals.