Rafael Nadal has been upset 7-6 (1), 6-4 by David Ferrer in the quarter finals of the ATP 1000 event in Monte Carlo. The defeat is the Spaniard’s earliest at the event since he lost in the last 16 in 2003. Nadal has been the Monte Carlo champion no less than eight times, and was runner-up last season and his early loss this season will leave fans worried about a player struggling to keep up the form that saw him dominate the tour in 2013.
Nadal desperately needed a strong clay court season after his disappointing start to the season. A defeat in the Australian Open final, an early loss in Indian Wells and a thrashing at the hands of Djokovic in Miami have left Nadal in danger of losing his No. 1 ranking.
This loss to Ferrer will not help that situation as Nadal will lose 420 valuable ranking points. Meanwhile in-form Novak Djokovic will now be the favorite to defend the title he won so impressively over Nadal last year as he continues to close the gap on his rival.
And there are greater potential repercussions to this loss than just Djokovic closing the gap on Nadal in the rankings. Losing to Ferrer, who had not beaten Nadal on Clay for a decade, damages Nadal’s clay-court aura.
Quite the aura it is, too. Eight French Open titles, eight Monte Carlo trophies, seven Italian Opens, and three Madrid titles are just some of the Spaniard’s achievements on the red Clay. But the 32-year-old Ferrer’s victory will have many players believing that they too can get the better of a man who has dominated a surface like no other player in the history of the game.
They will have to play as well as the skilled Ferrer, though. The Spaniard, the 2013 Roland Garros runner-up to Nadal, is no stranger to clay and he certainly played like someone who was very comfortable on the stuff. Ferrer came out firing from the first game, breaking Nadal in the second. Though he was broken back, Ferrer never lost belief, staying with Nadal until the tiebreaker. It was there that he finally showed he had what it took to get his second career clay victory over his countryman. Ferrer never let up on his aggressive counter punching and dropped only one point in the tie-breaker.
Learning from the harsh lessons of 2013 where he let a couple of leads to Nadal slip, Ferrer surged ahead 5-2 in the second. The occasion got the better of him as he failed to serve it out, but he was ready at the second time of asking, taking the set 6-4 and earning a famous victory.
Nadal admitted after the loss that his confidence was on the decline. But they were words he need not have said. Losing so early in one of his favorite events, and being so dominated by a rival he has always mastered, spoke louder than any words could. And the statistic of 44 unforced errors on his part is one that will be being whispered around the locker rooms of the European clay court events.
Ferrer had the last word, though. He will go on to say more when he comes up against Wawrinka in the semis. Nadal meanwhile has some thinking time before entering another of his favorite events in Barcelona. He will need to make quite the statement there before the double of the Rome and Madrid ATP 1000 events in May. Should Nadal go down whimpering, word will spread that the once seemingly invincible clay court king might be dead and that the chance of the no 1 ranking and a host of clay court titles for his rivals are very much alive.
Commentary by Christian Deverille