Shanghai: World number two Rafael Nadal on Tuesday targeted a return to the form that won him three Grand Slams in a single season, admitting his game had dipped since his stellar 2010 campaign.
The Spaniard, for many years locked in a battle with Swiss great Roger Federer for tennis supremacy, has seen his crown taken this year by Serbia's Novak Djokovic, who has swept all before him and won three Slams of his own.
Nadal, 25, who won the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open back-to-back last year, said his game had since faltered a little, contributing to his losing seven of 10 finals in 2011.
"I believe Rafa 2010 had something more special than Rafa 2011, especially in tough situations," Nadal said ahead of his first match at the Shanghai Masters against compatriot Guillermo Garcia-Lopez on Wednesday.
"Winning or losing depends on very, very, very small things," added Nadal, who retained his French Open crown but finished runner-up to Djokovic at this year's Wimbledon and US Open.
"And probably these very, very small things I did a little bit better in 2010 than 2011. It is hard to win big matches. I lost a lot of finals this year.
He said the only thing on his mind now was to ensure he had "enough motivation to keep trying my best and to keep finding solutions to be a better player for next year".
He disagreed with Andy Murray's assessment that the level of the men’s game had gone up another notch this season, suggesting that he and Federer had not been as good as in previous years.
"I don’t think the level has been better than 2010 or 2009. I think it has been similar," said the Spaniard. "For my part and Roger's part a little bit worse for the moment.
"I played worse than last year. I was very consistent, probably even more consistent than last year, but I played a little bit worse, I think. I think Roger played well, but he lost a few matches that in the past he never would have lost."
Nadal said minor tweaks had made the difference for Djokovic and he would try to do likewise.
"If you are not improving every year more and more, your chances are less," said Nadal. "Don't forget this is my seventh year on the tour being top two.
"That's happened because, first thing, I was in perfect conditions mentally all these years, but second thing because I always try to improve and play better and better. That's the goal and that's what I have to keep doing if I want to keep being here for a long time."