Rafael Nadal’s clay-court woes have mounted at the Barcelona Open with another loss.
The eight-time champion lost to Fabio Fognini 6-4 7-6 in the third round, a year after his 41-match winning streak ended in the quarter-finals.
After dropping the first set, Nadal appeared to have rebounded by breaking the Italian three times in the second set, but Fognini answered each time.
In the tiebreaker, Nadal trailed 6-3 but came back to 6-6. Fognini went ahead, and Nadal drove a shot long for only his third loss at the tournament.
“I played poorly, I didn’t play like I should have,” Nadal said.
“I didn’t play aggressively, I missed more shots that I normally do. I didn’t manage to keep the advantage I had. Having three breaks in the second set and end up at 5-5 is a disaster.
“This is a blow for me, but I accept the challenge and the negative day I had today. There is no other way forward other than to accept it or die.”
After winning their first four career meetings, Nadal has lost twice to Fognini this year on his preferred surface.
Nadal, a nine-time French Open champion, was trying to rebound from last week’s loss to Novak Djokovic at the Monte Carlo Masters.
Nadal has failed to reclaim his title at two tournaments he has won a record eight times, casting doubt on his ability to defend the French Open title.
“This is a hard day for me. I felt I was playing better,” Nadal said while shaking his head repeatedly. “I will keep working. I am convinced that this situation of ups and downs I have had since returning from injuries, sooner or later, will come to an end.”
The 13th-seeded Fognini, who had never won a match at the Real Club de Tennis before winning his second-round opener, will next face Pablo Andujar of Spain. Andujar beat Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-4.
Earlier, defending champion Kei Nishikori advanced by beating Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 6-2 6-1, and four-time finalist David Ferrer defeated Swedish 19-year-old Elias Ymer 6-3 6-4.
Nishikori will next play Roberto Bautista Agut after the Spaniard defeated 10th-seeded Pablo Cuevas 7-6 6-2.
Martin Klizan of Slovakia also joined the final eight after ending Victor Estrella’s strong start to the tournament with a 6-4 6-3 victory.