Madrid - World number one Rafael Nadal targets a ninth Barcelona Open title this week desperate to prove his shock Monte Carlo Masters quarter-final exit is not a sign of decline.
The 13-time Grand Slam champion failed to reach the final of the Monte Carlo Masters for the first time since he was 16 as he was defeated in straight sets by fellow Spaniard David Ferrer.
It was his earliest loss in the principality since 2003 and came 12 months after his eight-year winning streak at the event was ended in the final by Novak Djokovic.
“I just have to keep working to try to find the solutions in Barcelona. I am going to try and play well there and fight for the matches,” said Nadal, who insists his faltering form is not the consequence of the back injury which struck him down in his Australian Open final defeat to Stanislas Wawrinka.
“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,” added 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.”
Despite recent setbacks, Nadal is still firmly the favourite for a ninth title in Barcelona where he has only ever lost once, again as a youngster back in 2003.
The Mallorcan will kick off his campaign against another Spaniard Albert Ramos or Nikolay Davydenko on Wednesday and could have a chance for immediate revenge against Ferrer should the top two seeds reach Sunday's final.
The main threats to Nadal in the top-half of the draw would appear to come from fellow Spaniards Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco, although he could also face third-seeded Italian Fabio Fognini in the semi-finals.
Ferrer has lost four times in the final to Nadal in the last six years and his road to another meeting with the king of clay looks trickier as he faces a potential quarter-final against one of the in-form Ernests Gulbis or Alexander Dolgopolov.
Number four seed Kei Nishikori could also lie in wait for Ferrer in the semi-finals and he is hoping to make an impact in his first claycourt tournament under the tutelage of former French Open champion Michael Chang.
“This is my first tournament of the claycourt season so hopefully I can start really strong,” he said at the draw for the tournament on Saturday.
“It's nice working with a legend like Michael Chang, he knows a lot of things and he knows what I need to do to take me to the next level and I think I have already shown improvement with him.” - Sapa-AFP