NEW YORK –
Frances Tiafoe ended Rafael Nadal’s 22-match winning streak in Grand Slam tournaments by defeating the 22-time major champion 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-6 in the fourth round of the US Open on Monday 3 defeated.
Tiafoe is a 24-year-old from Maryland who is seeded 22nd at Flushing Meadows and reached the second major quarterfinal of his career.
He’s the youngest American to get that far at the US Open since Andy Roddick in 2006, but this wasn’t a case of a one-sided crowd backing one of their own. Nadal is as popular in tennis as it gets and heard plenty of support at Arthur Ashe Stadium as the volume increased after the retractable roof closed in the fourth set.
“I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m over the moon. I can’t believe it,” said Tiafoe, who next meets number 9 Andrey Rublev. “He’s one of the greatest of all time. I played incredible tennis today but I don’t even know what happened.”
Here’s what happened: Tiafoe served better than Nadal, number 2. Surprisingly, he hit back better too. And he kept calm, stayed in the moment and didn’t let the stakes or the opponent get to him. Nadal had won their two previous matches and every set they played.
“Well done for him,” said Nadal. “He was better than me.”
That upset came a day after one of Tiafoe’s pals, Nick Kyrgios, eliminated defending champion Daniil Medvedev.
Nadal won the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June. He then reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon in July before withdrawing from that tournament due to a torn abdominal muscle. that doesn’t go on the books as a loss because he was eliminated before the game.
The 36-year-old Spaniard has only competed once in the 1 1/2 months between leaving the All England Club and arriving in New York while recovering from his injury. His game was not up to his usual standards at the US Open, which he has won four times.
Nadal optimized his serve movement and threw the ball lower than usual to not put as much stress on his midsection when grabbing his racquet. There were plenty of signs on Monday that his serve just wasn’t at its best: nine double faults, a first serve share of around 50%, five breaks by Tiafoe.
There were signs of trouble for Nadal early in the tournament. He lost the first set of his first-round match. Did the same in the second round when he also accidentally cut the bridge of his nose and got dizzy when the edge of his racquet frame bounced off the court and hit him in the face on a backhand follow-through.
In round four on Monday, the penultimate break came for a 4-3 lead in the fourth set when Nadal netted a backhand and Tiafoe vaulted backwards to the touchline for the subsequent fist-raised substitution. Fifteen minutes later, Tiafoe broke again and it was over.
When a final backhand from Nadal found the net, Tiafoe put his hands on his head. As he sat in his chair on the sidelines, he buried his face in a towel.
“When I first came on stage, a lot of people had limitations in what I would do. … I wasn’t ‘mentally ready’ for it. I wasn’t “mature,” Tiafoe said. But these days, he added, “I can just go my own way and enjoy the game I love.”
It marks the latest significant step forward for Tiafoe, whose only previous Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance came at the 2019 Australian Open – and ended in a loss to Nadal.
Tiafoe thanked a long list of people who were in the stands, including his parents – they emigrated from Sierra Leone in West Africa and Dad worked as a maintenance man at a tennis facility near the US capital – his girlfriend and the Washington Wizards All – Star Guardian Bradley Beal.
“For them to see what I did today means more than anything,” Tiafoe said. “Today is an incredible day and I will definitely take it in.”