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NEW YORK (AP) — Frances Tiafoe ended 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 The fourth round of the US Open on Monday.
Tiafoe is a 24 year old from Maryland who is set 22nd at Flushing Meadows and reached the second major quarterfinals of his career.
He is the youngest American to have come this far US Open since Andy Roddick in 2006, but this was not a case of a lopsided crowd supporting one of their own. Nadal is as popular in tennis as it gets and heard plenty of support at Arthur Ashe Stadium as the volume increased after the retractable roof closed in the fourth set.
“I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m over the moon. 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.
“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.
When a final backhand from Nadal found the net, Tiafoe put his hands on his head. As he sat in his chair on the sidelines, he buried his face in a towel.
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.