PARIS — Rafael Nadal's mastery of the Monte Carlo clay courts seems to be over.
The top-ranked Spaniard hopes his confidence isn't gone, too.
Nadal lost to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer 7-6 (1), 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters on Friday, his earliest exit since 2003 at a tournament that helped build his reputation as perhaps the greatest clay-court player of all time. Nadal won eight consecutive titles here from 2005-12, before losing to Novak Djokovic in last year's final.
This was Nadal's first loss on clay to Ferrer since 2004.
Djokovic looked like he might follow him out, but the Serb finally got the better of the unseeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to set up a 34th career meeting against 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.
Federer leads Djokovic 17-16 in head-to-heads and they are 1-1 this year, with Federer beating him in the Dubai Championship semifinals and Djokovic winning their final at Indian Wells.
The Serb was close to losing against Garcia-Lopez, saving a break point in the fifth game of the second set and two more when trailing 15-40 in his next service game.
Djokovic then made a crucial break to take a 5-3 lead, served out the set, and then broke Garcia-Lopez twice at the start of the third.