Rafael Nadal’s comeback from a wrist injury suffered an early blow when he was ousted in the quarterfinals of the China Open by world No. 56 Martin Klizan, with the Spaniard admitting to difficulty returning in a period of the year featuring quick surfaces that rank as his least favored. After defeat in Beijing, Nadal heads to the Shanghai Masters this coming week before the year finishes on the fast indoor surfaces at the Masters Series Event in Paris and then at the ATP World Tour Finals in London.

In his first tournament since bowing out in the fourth round of Wimbledon at the start of July, Nadal got the better of Richard Gasquet and Peter Gojowczyk. And all was looking good when he took the opening set against Klizan, a man he had beaten on the only two occasions they had previously met, including in the first round of Wimbledon this year. But a defeat, despite going up a break in the final set, leaves the world No. 2 hoping for better in Shanghai, where his best result was as runner-up in 2009. All week in the Chinese capital Nadal attempted to temper expectations that this comeback would match that of last year. Then he returned from a seven-month absence from a knee injury and reached the final of his first nine events, winning seven of them, including the French Open. But that comeback came on his favored clay surface  

“Coming back in this part of the season is completely different than if I am coming back on clay,” Nadal said after beating Gojowczyk, Reuters reported. “I would be able to be in rhythm a little bit faster, a little bit easier. For me this last part of the season obviously is important. Every tournament is important for me. At the same time I want to finish with a better feeling possible to start the new season with good tennis.”

Nadal already has secured his place in the World Tour Finals, in which the top eight players on the year compete. Yet he has now slipped to third in the race and is in danger of doing so in the rankings, with Roger Federer now close behind him. Federer returns to action in Shanghai in a tournament featuring all of the world’s top 10. After a bye in the first round, Nadal will begin the prestigious Masters Series event by taking on the winner of compatriot Feliciano Lopez and Australian qualifier Thanassi Kokkinaikis. From there he could be set for a meeting with American John Isner and then eighth seed Milos Raonic. He would then be seeded to meet his conqueror in the Australian Open final this year, Stan Wawrinka, with long-time rival Djokovic, who lifted the title in Beijing, potentially in wait in the final. For Nadal, though, having pulled out of the new Indian International Premier Tennis League that starts at the end of November, the main focus appears to be on ensuring he is in peak condition to hit the ground running Down Under in 2015. 

“I am going to work hard with the right attitude to play better than what I did today,” he said, according to ESPN. “I will be happy if I finish the season and I am able to take a 1 1/2-week holiday, then practice for one month in perfect conditions to try to start the next season with positive feelings.”