Federer is currently ranked third in the ATP singles rankings, behind Nadal and Djokovic  [AFP]

Jurgen Melzer powered past an out-of-sorts Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo tennis Masters on Friday.

The 16-time Grand Slam champion wasted seven break points against the seventh-seeded Austrian in windy conditions, as Melzer handed Federer his fifth loss of the season.

Melzer 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.

Out of form

Federer, a three-time finalist in 2006-2008 against Rafael Nadal, was well off his best form after two superlative previous matches this week as he began his season on clay.

"He did well and played aggressive. He didn't give me many chances," Federer, who has never won at Monte Carlo and last won a tournament at Doha in early January, said.

"I didn't think I played terrible. It's the first week of play (on clay) so I didn't expect to play my best. It's been a solid tournament."

Federer's latest defeat will raise more questions about whether he is slipping further behind Rafael 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.

The defeat ruled out an anticipated final against six-time defending champion Nadal, who was facing Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia. Third-seeded Andy Murray of Britain was to face Portuguese qualifier Frederico Gil.

Breaking back

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 centre 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.

Federer was plagued by 24 unforced errors while Melzer notched 26.

The French Open starts on May 22.

Source: Agencies