The pumped-up 24-year-old fearlessly continued to play the three-hour, 31-minute thriller Arthur Ashe Stadium to its third top five win. Tiafoe hammered the ball off both wings and bounced back from a fourth-set collapse to become the first American to reach the last eight in New York since John Isner in 2018 and the youngest to have accomplished the feat since Andy Roddick in 2006.
“I’m over the moon, almost in tears, I can’t believe it,” Tiafoe said in his on-court interview. “I played incredible tennis today. I really don’t know what happened.”
Tiafoe had never won a set against Nadal and was 2-0 behind the Spaniard in their ATP Head2Head series ahead of their meeting in New York. However, the American smashed 49 winners to turn the tables in style and avenge his quarter-final defeat Australian Open in 2019.
“At a score of 4:3 [in the fourth set]”when I went up 40/0 my legs were like cement,” Tiafoe said. “I just had to get out of the game and then pray to God that I don’t have to minister for it. I was lucky to get out of this game. I came out without paying all the respect to Rafa. I came out to win a tennis match in front of you guys.”
Nadal was chasing his fifth New York title and a record-breaking 23rd Grand Slam crown in those two weeks. The 36-year-old who won the first two Majors of the year Australian Open and Roland Garrosis currently #1 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.
In a lively first set, Tiafoe quickly found his reach from the baseline. He hit his flat groundstrokes with conviction and demonstrated his agility, blasting down anything the Spaniard threw at him to move forward.
After losing the first set in two of his three matches in the opening week in New York, Nadal remained calm. Staying with Tiafoe, he capitalized on mistakes by the American in game 10 of the second set to gain a foothold. Serving at a score of 4-5, 15/15, the American misjudged a backhand from Nadal and left a ball that hit the line. He then hit a double fault at 30/40 to gift the Spaniard the set.
However, Tiafoe quickly shrugged off the disappointment and responded with heavy punches. The American fired a backhand winner at 3-3, 30/40 to convert the first break point of the set before holding strong on serve.
In a tight fourth set, Nadal hit first and took a 3-1 lead. However, Tiafoe stuck to his game plan and worked his way back into the set. He swung around freely and kept his nerve as he rolled off five straight games to seal a historic victory. When the crowd was on their feet, the American let out a yell before hugging Nadal at the net.
“When I first came on stage, I felt like a lot of people had high expectations of how I was going to do,” Tiafoe said. “I wasn’t mentally ready for it. I wasn’t mature enough for that. In the past few years, when the tension wasn’t on me, I’ve been able to develop. I have a great team behind me. I just bow my head and am generally happy with where I am in life. I’m able to do myself and my way and enjoy the game I love.”
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Tiafoe eliminated Marco Giron, Jason Kuebler and Diego Schwartzman in straight sets during opening week in New York and is now ranked 24th on the Pepperstone ATP Live rankings. Earlier this season he enjoyed a run to the final at Estoril before advancing to the fourth round Wimbledon.