Frances Tiafoe stuns Rafael Nadal in US Open fourth-round thriller

Frances Tiafoe took a huge step towards reaching her huge potential as she cruised to the biggest win of her career by far, second seed Rafael Nadal 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to reach the US Open. quarterfinals for the first time in his career.

In front of a boisterous home crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the 22nd seed this year became the first man to beat Nadal on court in a Grand Slam. It is also the first time since Wimbledon 2017 that Nadal has lost before the quarter-final stage of a Grand Slam.

After Nadal’s final backhand hit the net, Tiafoe was in disbelief as he tried to count the significance of his achievement. “I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m beyond happy, I’m almost crying,” Tiafoe said during his courtside interview.

In his Monday night press conference, Tiafoe recounted those emotions. “I was telling my agent it felt like the world had stopped. I couldn’t feel anything for a minute. Even shaking [Nadal’s] I don’t even know what I said to him. It was kind of a blur. I was already tearing up. I could barely see him and my team.”

As he made his third consecutive fourth-round appearance at the US Open, and after reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon earlier this summer, Tiafoe arrived at tennis’ biggest stadium in world full of confidence in his ability to achieve a great victory.

She served brilliantly from the start as she combined nerve-wracking attacking tennis with all her typical variety and style. Even after Nadal tied the match at one set and then looked to break as Tiafoe showed nerves late in the third set, Nadal continued to press him. He refused to waver.

Tiafoe served out the second set with two audacious forehand winners followed by an unreturned serve. After trailing 3-1 in the fourth set, Tiafoe reeled off five straight games, hit an ace after a tense, tight service game for 4-3, then played the return game of his life to take the victory without hesitation.

“My legs were like cement,” Tiafoe said of the long 4-3 game. “I said, ‘Just get out of the game, get out of the game,’ and I did.” He will face Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals after the No. 9 seed defeated Britain’s Cameron Norrie in straight sets earlier on Monday.

Tiafoe is the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone and was drawn to tennis after his father was a janitor at a tennis club in Washington. Hype has followed him since he was a teenager, but he’s had to be patient in adulthood, watching his contemporaries rise above him in the rankings and hoping to experience those moments himself.

“For a while there, I was like, ‘Wow. You see all these young guys get Rafa, Fed and Novak. Will I ever be able to say I beat one of them? Today I said, “No, I’ll do it.” So now, it’s something to tell the children, the grandchildren: ‘Yes, I beat Rafa’. I hope I never play there again, but I hope to finish with a win.”

NBA star LeBron James, Tiafoe’s idol, was among those who paid tribute to Tiafoe’s display on Twitter. “CONGRATULATIONS Young King!!! You earned it!” James tweeted along with a video of the game-winning moment.

“I was losing it in the locker room,” Tiafoe said, laughing. “I went crazy. “That’s my boy. So when I saw him post this, I was like, “Do I retweet him as soon as he sent it?” I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to get all cool and act like I didn’t see it and then I’m going to retweet it three hours later.'”

Rafael Nadal says goodbye to the New York crowd after his first slam defeat since the 2021 French Open.
Rafael Nadal says goodbye to the New York crowd after his first slam defeat since the 2021 French Open. Photograph: Frey/TPN/Getty Images

As he digested a bitter end to a big and complicated year, Nadal brushed off questions about his preparation and the abdominal injury that kept him out of just one tournament before the US Open. He said he practiced a lot before the tournament and for reasons he couldn’t put his finger on, his level dropped as soon as the tournament started.

“It’s normal that 15 minutes after a defeat in the final slam of the season you feel that everything is dark, everything seems difficult to have the positive energy to look forward,” said Nadal, in Spanish. “But the days will pass and I will continue as I have done all my life and I am sure I have the inner strength to do it again.”

Nadal will return home to Mallorca, where his wife, Mery, is pregnant with their first child. His next scheduled tournament is the Laver Cup in September, but his next appearance will depend on his wife’s pregnancy and when he intends to resume touring.

“It has been a somewhat difficult few months in every sense, that is the reality. And from there, I’m going to start again professionally, and on a personal level, I’m going to finish with something that’s important in my life, which is having my first child. I trust that everything will turn out well”, said Nadal.

For Tiafoe, everything has changed. Before the event, Tiafoe said he was happy to fly under the radar after years of attention and pressure in his youth. “It’s over now, man,” he said, grinning. “I was thinking about that. Now that’s over. No more dark horse.”

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