Nadal searches for fire as French Open nears
Rafael Nadal reacts during his shock 7-6 (7/1), 6-4 defeat by David Ferrer on April 18, 2014 at the Monte-Carlo ATP Masters Series Tournament - by Jean Christophe Magnenet
The world number one suffered just his third career defeat in Monte Carlo when he slumped to a shock 7-6 (7/1), 6-4 quarter-final loss to compatriot Ferrer on Friday.
Nadal had won the Monte Carlo title for eight successive years from 2005 to 2012 before his run was ended in 2013 by Novak Djokovic in the final.
Friday's loss was his earliest in the principality since a third round exit against Guillermo Coria on his debut appearance in 2003 when he was just 16.
For Ferrer, the unheralded workhorse of the men's tour, it was a first win on clay against the 13-time major winner since Stuttgart in 2004.
Even Nadal, whose season so far has seen titles in Doha and Rio and runners-up spots at the Australian Open and Miami, felt the shockwaves.
"I started the year great in Doha and during Australia. But I don't have to lie. After what happened in Australia it was a little bit harder for me to find again the intensity, the confidence, the inside power that always I have," said the 27-year-old.
"Even if I won Rio, I played the final in Miami, there remains something in my mind and in my game. I'm going to fight to try to find that solution soon."
There will again be suggestions that Nadal, who will attempt to become a nine-time French Open champion at Roland Garros next month, needs an overhaul of his coaching set-up.
He has been guided by his uncle Toni since childhood and has vigorously defended his in-house operation even as rivals Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray ruthlessly wielded the coaching axe to keep up with Nadal's blistering pace.
- Radical surgery not answer -
But Nadal does not believe radical surgery is the answer to what at the moment is just one setback, albeit a worrying one on a surface where he has gathered 43 of his 62 career titles.
"With my style of game, I don't know another way. I am not a player who will win in two shots. I can do it when I am playing very, very well. But normally I play the points," he said.
Nadal also insists that he is injury free with the back pain that sabotaged his Australian Open final dream no longer an issue.
"The back is in good shape. Physical performance is in good shape," he said.
Nadal knows that this is not the time to press the panic button and recent history suggests he is right not to do so.
Next week he heads to Barcelona where he is an eight-time champion and where he boasts a record of 40 wins against just one loss which he suffered in 2003.
Then it's on to his defence of the Madrid Masters title and Rome where he won for the seventh time in 2013.
In the Italian capital, Nadal has 41 wins and just two defeats -- against Juan Carlos Ferrero in the second round in 2008 and to Djokovic in the 2011 final.
Even those two losses failed to impact his French Open hopes just as other shock defeats failed to dent his status as Roland Garros favourite.
His third round defeat to Fernando Verdasco in Madrid in 2012 and last year's Monte Carlo final loss to Djokovic served just to fire him to more trophy-biting in Paris in the first week of June.
In the French capital, Nadal remains the king with eight titles and a record of 59 wins in 60 matches.
Come what may over the next six weeks, Nadal remains determined to keep his highs and lows in perspective.
"In life there are much more important things than a tennis match," he said.