American Frances Tiafoe stuns Rafael Nadal to make US Open quarterfinals

American Frances Tiafoe stuns Rafael Nadal to make US Open quarterfinals

NEW YORK — Frances Tiafoe ended Rafael Nadal‘s 22-match winning streak at Grand Slam tournaments by beating the 22-time major champion 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the US Open’s fourth round on Monday.

Tiafoe, seeded 22nd at Flushing Meadows, buried his head in his hands and cried on the court after he shook hands with No. 2 seed Nadal. He sat on the bench and buried his head in a towel as Nadal walked off and waved to the crowd.

The 24-year-old Tiafoe is the youngest American man to reach the quarterfinals at the US Open since Andy Roddick in 2006. It’s the second major quarterfinal of his career.

“I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m beyond happy. I can’t believe it,” said Tiafoe, who faces No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev next. “He’s one of the greatest of all time. I played unbelievable tennis today, but I don’t even know what happened.”

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This occurred: Tiafoe served better compared to Nadal. All the more shockingly, he returned better, as well. What’s more, he stayed calm and composed, stayed at the time and never let the stakes or the rival get to him. The 36-year-old from Spain had won both of their past matches, and each set they played, as well. He was 31-2 in majors against Americans entering Monday’s match and had won 27 straight since losing to James Blake in 2005.

“Well, the difference is easy: I played a bad match and he played a good match,” Nadal said. “At the end that’s it.”

This surprise came a day after one of Tiafoe’s pals, Nick Kyrgios, eliminated No. 1 seed and defending champion Daniil Medvedev. That makes this the first US Open without either of the top two seeded men reaching the quarterfinals since 2000, when No. 1 Andre Agassi exited in the second round and No. 2 Gustavo Kuerten in the first.

That was before Nadal, Novak Djokovic, who has 21 Grand Slam titles, and Roger Federer, who has 20, began dominating men’s tennis. Djokovic, who is 35, did not enter this US Open because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19 and was not allowed to enter the United States; Federer, 41, has undergone a series of operations on his right knee and has not played since Wimbledon last year.

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Now come the inevitable questions about whether their era of excellence is wrapping up.

“It signifies that the years go on,” Nadal said. “It’s the natural cycle of life.”

Either Tiafoe or Rublev will advance to a first major semifinal. Rublev, who is 0-5 in Slam quarterfinals, beat No. 7 Cam Norrie 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 earlier Monday.

Other men’s matches on Monday’s schedule: 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic vs. No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz, and No. 11 Jannik Sinner vs. Ilya Ivashka.

Cilic is now the last remaining major champion left in the men’s draw. If he loses to the heavily favored Alcaraz, it will be only the third time in the Open era (since 1968) that a men’s major tournament has a quarterfinal lineup without an ex-champion, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

This is also just the second major since the start of 2005 without any of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal in the quarterfinals. The other was the 2020 French Open — Federer and Nadal didn’t play, and Djokovic was defaulted against Pablo Carreno Busta in the round of 16.

Nadal won the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June. Then he made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon in July before withdrawing from that tournament because of a torn abdominal muscle; that does not go into the books as a loss, because he pulled out before the match.

Nadal competed only once in the 1½ months between leaving the All England Club and arriving in New York while recovering from that injury. His play has not been up to his usual standards at the US Open, which he has won four times.

He tweaked his service motion, tossing the ball lower than he normally does so as not to put as much strain on his midsection while reaching with his racket. There were plenty of signs Monday that his serve is just not in tip-top shape: nine double faults, a first-serve percentage hovering around 50%, five breaks by Tiafoe.

There were signs of trouble for Nadal earlier 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 made himself dizzy when the edge of his racket frame bounced off the court and caught him in the face on a backhand follow-through.

In the fourth round Monday, the next-to-last break came for a 4-3 edge in the fourth set, when Nadal put a backhand into the net, and Tiafoe skipped backward toward the sideline for the ensuing changeover, his fist raised. Fifteen minutes later, Tiafoe broke again, and it was over.

When one last backhand by Nadal found the net, Tiafoe put his hands on his head. When he sat in his sideline chair, he buried his face in a towel.

“When I first came on the scene, a lot of people had limitations on what I would do. … I wasn’t ‘ready for it mentally.’ I wasn’t ‘mature,'” Tiafoe said.

But these days, he added, “I’m able to just do me and do it my way and enjoy the game I love.”

This represents the latest significant step forward for Tiafoe, whose only previous trip to a Grand Slam quarterfinal came at the 2019 Australian Open — and ended with a loss to Nadal.

Tiafoe thanked a long list of folks who were in the stands, including his parents — they emigrated from Sierra Leone in West Africa and his dad worked as a maintenance man at a tennis facility near the U.S. capital — his girlfriend and Washington Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal.

“To have them see what I did today means more than anything,” Tiafoe said. “Today’s an unbelievable day and I’m going to soak this one in, for sure.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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