Rafael Nadal's run at the 2013 Paris Masters came to an end in shocking fashion at the hands of defending tournament champion and compatriot David Ferrer in Saturday's semifinals, per BBC Sport on Twitter:
Defending champion David Ferrer beats Rafael Nadal to set up final meeting with Novak Djokovic at Paris Masters http://t.co/5yzc0nAVpw— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) November 2, 2013
The world No. 1 certainly missed a number of golden opportunities, but his opponent was the better player throughout and, in the end, was the more deserving competitor.
Here, we'll look back on how it happened and take a closer look at what we learned from Rafa's deflating exit in the French capital.
Ferrer Exercises His Demons, Wins 6-3, 7-5
Despite entering Saturday's match with a 4-20 head-to-head ATP record versus Nadal, Ferrer jumped out in front early, picking up a quick break of serve to put Nadal behind, reducing his room for error. Rafa struck out on his only break point in the opening frame and found himself trailing by a set just moments later.
The second set featured more of the same, as Ferrer took advantage of another early break to pull ahead.
But just when it looked like Rafa was ready to turn the tide and take over, breaking Ferrer in the 10th game of the second set to level the set at five games apiece, Nadal was broken in the very next game and went on to lose the set and the match, 7-5.
The defeat is only Nadal's sixth this season, but his third since the start of October.
Rafa Is Still Human on Hard Courts
Nadal's unbelievable run during the summer hard-court season and at the 2013 U.S. Open made us forget just how vulnerable he can be on hard surfaces.
It's not that Rafa can't dominate on hard or grass surfaces, just that the faster-playing surfaces limit his key advantages. His heavy topspin isn't quite as demoralizing, and he doesn't have quite as much time to react defensively.
After Saturday's loss to Ferrer, Nadal has now lost three of his past nine hard-court matches following a 26-0 start on the surface in 2013. The other two losses came against Novak Djokovic (Beijing) and Juan Martin del Potro (Shanghai).
There's no doubt that Rafa will always play his best tennis on his preferred surface. But in order to remain No. 1, he will have to get his hard-court swagger back in London next week and moving forward in 2014.
Nadal Needs the Offseason
Rafael Nadal isn't the only player in men's tennis excited for the upcoming offseason, but he does need the time off more than others.
Which top-four player will benefit most from the upcoming offseason?
Remember, Rafa played very little tennis in 2012 and none down the stretch after going out in the second round at Wimbledon and taking seven months off to recover from a knee injury. He's played nearly 80 competitive singles matches since returning in February, making deep runs in tournament after tournament and playing in three of the four Grand Slams, where you have to win three sets to advance.
Regardless of whether it's influenced his recent performances, Nadal's body has no doubt taken a beating over the past nine months.
His punishing style of play warrants added recovery time, and he'll get just that after the year-end championships next week in London.
While it's close to impossible to maintain Rafa's 2013 U.S. Open form, his level has clearly dropped off since winning his last title. Fortunately, the offseason will offer Nadal a chance to rest up without missing a beat.
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