NEW YORK — Frances Tiafoe completed Rafael Nadal‘s 22-match winning streak in Grand Slam tournaments by defeating the 22-time major champion 6-4 4-6 6-4 6-3 in the fourth round of the US Open on Monday.
Tiafoe buried his head in his hands and cried on the pitch after shaking hands with Nadal. He sat down on the bench and buried his head in a towel as Nadal walked away and waved to the crowd.
Tiafoe, 24, has become the youngest American to reach the quarterfinals at the US Open since Andy Roddick in 2006. It is the second major quarterfinal of his career.
“I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m so happy. 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. He was 31-2 in the majors against the Americans who started Monday and had won 27 straight games since the loss James Blake in the year 2005.
“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, especially his serve.
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.
The penultimate break came for a 4-3 edge in set number four when Nadal netted a backhand and Tiafoe vaulted backwards to the touchline for the ensuing fist-raised substitution. Fifteen minutes later, Tiafoe broke again and it was over.
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.
Marin Cilic is now the last major champion left in the men’s draw. When he loses to the heavily favored Carlo Alcaraz Monday night will mark only the third time in the Open Era (1968) that a men’s major tournament has played quarterfinals without a former champion, according to ESPN Stats & Information Research.
This is also only the second major since early 2005 without a member of the “Big 3”. Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nadal in the quarterfinals. The other was the 2020 French Open – Federer and Nadal didn’t play and Djokovic was defaulted Pablo Carreno Busta in the round of 16.
Earlier Monday, Rublev reached his sixth Grand Slam quarterfinal by defeating No. 7 Cam Norrie 6-4 6-4 6-4. Rublev is in his third quarterfinal at Flushing Meadows; he’s 0-2 in New York at this point – and 0-5 in all majors.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.