Roger Federer fell 6-4, 6-4 to Jurgen Melzer in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters today, the former top-ranked player's earliest loss in a tournament since Wimbledon last year.
The 16-time Grand Slam champion wasted seven break points against the seventh-seeded Austrian in swirling conditions, with clay regularly blowing off the surface of the court.
"I think I should have definitely gotten one of the sets," Federer said. "Every time I had this slight opening, things didn't go my way."
Melzer, a left-hander who broke once in each set, sealed victory when the second-seeded Federer chopped a weak forehand into the net. Melzer next plays No. 4 David Ferrer of Spain, who downed 11th-seeded Viktor Troicki of Serbia 6-3, 6-3.
Federer credited Melzer's attacking play, but said the Austrian enjoyed most of the luck.
"Either he shanks them and they stay in play, he hits the line," Federer said. "All those things accumulate to something quite frustrating. That's what made it hard."
Federer said he couldn't remember losing to a left-hander other than Rafael Nadal in "seven or eight years."
Federer said the windy conditions were tough on both players.
"I think probably being down in the score didn't help, that the wind started to come maybe after the first set when I was down," Federer said. "Even in the wind, I had all my chances to come back into the match.
"He did well. I think he played aggressive, was able to mix it up. Obviously, I wasted way too many break-point chances today, which was unfortunate."
Six-time defending champion Rafael Nadal had no such problems, comfortably beating Ivan Ljubicic 6-1, 6-3 of Croatia to notch up his 35th straight win at the tournament.
Nadal faces the winner of Friday's later match between third-seeded Andy Murray of Britain and Portuguese qualifier Frederico Gil.
Nadal lost his serve once when the players swapped breaks at the start of the match. Although he saved two break points serving for the match at 15-40, he was largely untroubled against Ljubicic, the former world No. 3.
He broke Ljubicic's serve five times and clinched victory when his opponent's attempted forehand passing shot went out.
Federer's latest defeat will raise more questions about whether he is slipping further behind Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the top of the game.
The last time Federer lost before the semifinals was at Wimbledon last July, when he was beaten by Tomas Berdych in the quarters. Outside of the Grand Slams, Federer hadn't lost this early since his second-round exit to Ernests Gulbis at the Italian Open nearly a year ago.
Friday's loss was Federer's only defeat this year to a player other than Nadal or Djokovic.
Melzer received treatment on his back after the first game, but had no trouble after that as he beat Federer for the first time in four matches.
Melzer broke Federer to go up 3-2 in the first set, and held for 4-2 after Federer immediately missed a chance to break back. With Melzer serving for the set at 5-4, Federer missed another chance to break, one of four he missed in the first set alone.
Melzer's aggressive approach paid off in the third game of the second set, when he pushed Federer behind the baseline and forced him into hitting another awkward backhand return into the net on break point.
After holding serve for 3-2, Federer played far more aggressively in the sixth game. Coming to the net much more, he forced two more break points.
But as dust and clay blew off the surface on center court, Federer scooped one weak return into the net and Melzer saved the other with a forehand winner before taking the game with an excellent drop shot.
Melzer struggled again in the eighth game and, with a perfect opportunity to finally break Melzer with the right side of the court wide open, Federer swung at the ball and sent his forehand pass wide.