Paris: Dethroned French Open champion Rafael Nadal admitted he wasn't surprised by his three-set French Open quarter-final rout by longtime rival Novak Djokovic but vowed to target a 10th title in 2016. Nadal marked his 29th birthday by losing 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 in his 44th meeting with world number one Djokovic to suffer what was only his second loss in 72 Paris matches over the last decade.
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Rafael Nadal. Pic/AFP
"It's not a big surprise after a year where I didn't win enough," said Nadal, who came into Roland Garros without a European claycourt title for the first time in 10 years. "It's something that could happen. When you saw the draw, a possible quarter-final against Novak this early. "But it's simple -- when the opponent plays better than you and is in better shape, then this can happen.
It happened, so I have to congratulate him." Nadal's only defeat in Paris before Wednesday was in 2009 when he was blasted off the court by big-hitting Robin Soderling of Sweden. For Djokovic, it was his first win over Nadal at Roland Garros in seven meetings and avenged losses in the 2012 and 2014 finals.
It edged him closer to a first French Open title which would make him just the eighth man to complete the career Grand Slam of all four majors. A win on Sunday, should he get that far, would also put him halfway to a calendar Grand Slam which has only ever been achieved by two men -- Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969). But as Djokovic looks ahead to his date with destiny, Nadal insisted he would be back next year attempting to win a 10th French Open.
"I lost here in 2009, I lost in 2015. It's not the end. I hope to be back next year with another chance," said Nadal, who is also set to slip out of the world top 10 for the first time since April 2005. On Wednesday's evidence, a 10th title may be hard to achieve. He faced 18 break points against Djokovic and was out-gunned with his 16 winners put into the shade by the Serb's 45.
"The only thing I know is that I won nine times. I don't know if I am going to win 10, but nine I already won," said 14-time major winner Nadal. "I am going to come back next year, I will try and be competitive, try to be better prepared and try to arrive with confidence. "I have been very successful here for nine of 11 years. Everybody loses in every place.
That day arrived for me today. "I always accept defeats -- one thing for sure is there is only one sure thing. I need to work harder and come back stronger." However, with Roger Federer also going out in the quarter-finals, there was a feeling in Paris late Wednesday that part of a golden era has come to an end.