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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, September 5, 2022

 
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Frances Tiafoe streaked through five straight games stunning second-seeded Rafael Nadal 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to soar into his maiden US Open quarterfinal.

Photo credit: Sarah Stier/Getty

NEW YORK—Gazing up at the closed retractable roof, Rafael Nadal looked like a man searching skyward for solutions to the problems that plagued him.

Closing off angles with command, Frances Tiafoe had all the answers showing the 2019 US Open champion the door.

More: Fierce Kyrgios Dethrones Defending Champion Medvedev

An energized Tiafoe streaked through five straight games stunning second-seeded Nadal 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to soar into his maiden US Open quarterfinal.

In the space of 24 hours, we've seen a seismic shift in the US Open draw as two charismatic talents have taken a wrecking ball to top seeds. Nick Kyrgios toppled world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev last night and Tiafoe took down Nadal, who carried a 22-0 record in 2022 Grand Slam matches, with a career-best performance today.




The magnitude of the moment left an emotional Tiafoe in tears as a crescendo of crowd cheers filled his ears.

"I don't even know what to say: I'm beyond happy," Tiafoe told ESPN's James Blake after pulling off the biggest US Open win by an American man since wild card Blake upset world No. 2 Nadal in the 2005 third round. "I'm moved to tears.

"Can't believe it, can't believe it. He's definitely one of the greatest of all time. I played unbelievable tennis today. Yeah, I really don't know what happened."

What happened is Tiafoe tore the draw wide open.




It marks the first time since 2000 both US Open men's top seeds are out before the quarterfinals and could signal a major shift at the top of the sport. If third-seeded Carlos Alcaraz or fifth-seeded Casper Ruud reach the final, then they will rise to world No. 1. If neither Alcaraz nor Ruud reach the final, then the 36-year-old Nadal will regain the top spot.

The 24-year-old Tiafoe boldly declared his game-plan for the king of clay after his third-round win over Diego Schwartzman.

"I believe I can beat him...I'm definitely going to come after him," Tiafoe said.

Tiafoe took it to Nadal today exuding more energy, covering the court quicker, taking the ball earlier and hammering drives down the line at crunch time becoming the youngest American man to reach the US Open quarterfinals since a 24-year-old Andy Roddick back in 2006. 

The defeat snaps Nadal's 10-match US Open winning streak and ends his quest for a fifth US Open crown and a record-extending 23rd major championship.



A philosophical Nadal summed up his loss simply: Tiafoe outplayed him.

"Easy, I played a bad match and he played a good match so at the end that's it,"Nadal told the media afterward. "It was not able to hold a high level of tennis for a long time. I was not enough quick on my movements and he was able to take the ball too many times very early so I was not able to push him back.

"Yeah, tennis is a sport of position a lot of times. If not you need to be very very quick and very young and I am not in the momentum anymore. My adjustments need to be better. In some ways my understanding of the game and the quality of my shots were not enough good were poor. I have to say today because I was not able to create damage for him. Well done for him, he was better than me."

The serv and return are the two most important shots in the sport. Tiafoe doubled Nadal's ace total (18 to 9), while hte Spaniard spit up nine double faults and dropped serve five times.

Tiafoe broke in the seventh game then slid a forehand down the line, confirming the beak for 5-3. Tiafoe calmly served out the opening set.




Neither Nadal's slider serve nor his backhand return were as effective as they typically are during that opening set.

The 2019 champion worked through a tricky hold for a 5-4 second-set lead. To that point, Nadal hadn't had a sniff of cracking Tiafoe's serve. Nadal changed that with a tremendous defensive dig that caught the edge of the sideline. That bit of racquet wizardry helped the Spaniard earned break and set points.

Tiafoe saved the first but double faulted on the second handing Nadal the second set.

It was the first set of the tournament Tiafoe lost leaving third-seeded Carlos Alcaraz as the lone man standing who has yet to drop a set in Flushing Meadows.

At the start of the third set, Tiafoe looked a little leg weary, but quickly got back in step.

Torching a drive into the corner, Tiafoe drew a stretched error for break point in the seventh game. Lining up his two-hander, Tiafoe roped a backhand winner down the line and sprinted to his court-side seat with a break and 4-3 third-set lead in hand.




Imposing his variety, Tiafoe boomed a 135 mph serve down the middle and followed it flicking a floating forehand drop shot winner. Serving-and-volleying on a second serve, Tiafoe drew a netted return to consolidate for 5-3.

Hesitancy hurt Nadal who didn't make a full move for a Tiafoe forehand down the line, but the shot fell in and the American obliterated a forehand ddown the line for set points.

Tiafoe thumped his 11th ace to end the set and stood just one set from maiden major semifinal. Both men left the court for a bathroom break before commencing the fourth set.

Early in the set, the tournament referee made the decision to close the roof over Ashe Stadium. Tiafoe lost his serve to fall behind 1-3 and unloaded on chair umpire Carlos Bernardes calling the disruption in play "fu--ing bulls--t"" incurring a code violation warning as Nadal went up 3-1.

At that point, it looked like Tiafoe was losing the stress test and Nadal would force a fifth set, but Nadal couldn't land a first serve when he needed it most.

A pair of Nadal double faults proved costly as Tiafoe blistered a drive breaking back for 2-3. A fired up Tiafoe lasered a 137 mph ace out wide to level the fourth set after six games.

Double faults were piling up for the Australian Open champion so Nadal tried a drop shot, but Tiafoe caught up to it and bunted a re-drop for a break point. Nadal nullified it. On a second break point, Tiafoe took his shot down the line drawing a netted backhand from Nadal.

Tiafoe danced to his court-side seat up a break with a 4-3 lead. An energized Tiafoe bombed his 16th ace out wide for his fourth consecutive game and a 5-3 lead.

Three hours, 33 minutes into the match, Tiafoe snatched triple match point with a brilliant stretched forehand pass that sent Arthur Ashe Stadium fans into a frenzy.




When Nadal poked a backhand pass into the middle of the net, Tiafoe flung his Yonex racquet aside, covered his face with his hands then buried his face in his towel wiping away tears while a departing Nadal received a huge ovation waving to fans.

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A charismatic Tiafoe went toe-to-toe with Nadal recovering from that break down in the fourth set to blow by the 22-time Grand Slam champion. Widely regarded as a gifted talent, who sometimes indulged his love of entertaining over closing elite opponents, Tiafoe showed major maturation at closing time today.

Working with coach Wayne Ferreira, who played Pete Sampras tough during his playing days, Tiafoe played with the confidence of a man convinced he could win today.

Don't call Tiafoe an underachiever anymore, the former junior world No. 2 now joins Kyrgios and Alcaraz as a major contender for this US Open. Next up for Tiafoe is hard-hitting Russian Andrey Rublev, whom the American edged in five sets at the 2021 US Open.

The ninth-seeded Rublev rolled seventh-seeded Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 earlier today.

"I felt like a lot of people I wasn't ready for it and mentally I wasn't mature enough," Tiafoe said of his growth. "I have been putting my head down and [working]. 

"At 4-3 my legs were like cement. I was like just get out of this game and pray to God you don't have to serve for it. I was lucky enough to get out of that game. I played great tennis today. I came out giving Rafa all respect I came out to win a tennis match in front of you guys."

The Grand Slam king's departure means that a non Big 4 champion will raise the US Open title trophy for the third year in a row after Dominic Thiem won in 2020 and Medvedev denied Novak Djokovic's calendar Grand Slam bid by taking the 2021 title.

 

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