NEW YORK (Reuters) - Not even the presence of his sporting inspiration, Tiger Woods, at the U.S. Open could lift Rafa Nadal to his accustomed heights at Flushing Meadows, leaving the Spaniard to assess his recent shortcomings on the court.
Nadal was 151-0 in grand slams when winning the first two sets, but his perfect record ended when he could not stave off the comeback of inspired Fabio Fognini, who prevailed 3-6 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-4 in a match that ended in the wee hours on Saturday.
"If you hit the ball a bit shorter, the opponent has more space. If you hit the ball with a little bit of less confidence, then there is not as much topspin like used to be," he said after his upset loss to the Italian.
"If you hit shorter ... the opponent takes the ball earlier, so it looks like you are slower.
"Is easy to understand, easy to explain. Difficult to change. But I going to do it."
The third-round defeat put a sour end to a sub-par season for Nadal, 29, whose record run of winning at least one grand slam title for 10 straight years was snapped.
He went as far as the quarters at the Australian and French Opens and was ousted in the second round at Wimbledon by an opponent ranked outside the top 100.
"I accept that was not my year and (will) keep fighting till the end of the season in a positive way for me. I know what I have to do and I'm going to work on it," said the proud Spaniard, seeded eighth at Flushing Meadows.
Nadal, who has been slowed in recent years by injuries, insisted he was healthy this season and retained his passion for the game.
On Friday night, he was cheered on by golfer Tiger Woods, who sat in his box.
Former world number one Woods has also dealt with injuries, most recently needing back surgery, and has been struggling to regain form.
"For me, (as) a sportsman he’s a big example. His attitude on the golf course for me always was a big inspiration," Nadal said.
"When I saw him play, when I saw his attitude, I see the eyes that he has when has the difficult shot, the decisive shot. Is very special.
"I don’t see a lot of sportsmen with that self-confidence, with that intensity on his face when he had to hit the important shot.
"So for me, he’s a great example, great inspiration. I always say the same. I don’t have idols. But that’s the closest thing that I have: Him.”
Nadal said he believed he could regain his superiority on the court. "It's not a big story," he said. "Is just improve small things that make a big difference."
The Spaniard has been stuck on his total of 14 grand slams, the same number of golf majors that Woods has been stalled on since 2008.
Asked who he thought had the best chance to win number 15, Nadal said: “I hope we make that happen next year, both (of us)."
Editing by Andrew Both