Rafael Nadal suffers early Barcelona Open exit after Fabio Fognini defeat

    Rafael Nadal has been beaten twice by Fabio Fognini this year.

    (CNN)Rafael Nadal suffered another setback on the road to next month's French Open after crashing out of the Barcelona Open in the third round to Fabio Fognini.

    Nadal is aiming to become the first player in the Open Era to win a single major 10 times when he returns to Roland Garros, but preparations on his favored clay courts have not gone quite as planned.
    After failing to secure a ninth Monte Carlo Masters title earlier this month -- losing out to eventual winner Novak Djokovic in the semifinals -- he now has to go without a ninth Barcelona Open title after exiting the competition at the earliest hurdle since 2003.
      Nadal has just the one title to his name since landing his ninth French Open last June -- March's Argentina Open win.
      Fognini saw off Nadal for the second time this year with a 6-4, 7-6 (8-6) victory on Thursday, having also beaten his compatriot in the Rio Open semifinals.
      After edging a tight first set, Fognini forced the second into a tie-break, eventually winning out on a fourth match point following a mistimed forehand from his opponent.
      The win takes Fognini, who had been winless in his five previous appearances in Barcelona, into the quarterfinals where he will face fellow Spaniard Pablo Andujar after his 6-3 6-4 victory over Feliciano Lopez.
      "Unless you play at your highest level against Rafa for the whole match you are not going to get the better of him," Fognini told Spanish television.
      "Beating a player who is the greatest in history on this surface is worth double.
      "I knew I had my chances today and I just tried to keep to my game plan and give it my all."