Rafael Nadal was aiming for a tenth quarter-final at the US Open, he will have to wait at least another year since Frances Tiafoe grilled his politeness by qualifying (6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3) , him, for the first time at this level of competition in the New York Grand Slam. And frankly, the qualification of the American does not suffer from any dispute as he was able to raise his level in altitudes that we had never seen him frequent with so much rigor. Like what Nick Kyrgios has been offering lately, Tiafoe showed a focused face throughout the match, never trying to do too much or to amuse the public. He had a plan, attack Nadal as much as possible, and he did what was necessary to implement it to the letter.
On the other side of the net, Nadal was visibly lacking in juice. But his defeat does not come from there. Not only. It was indeed Tiafoe who beat him. The Spaniard also showed a very concentrated face from the first exchanges. Obviously, he had decided to attack foot to the floor, with the desire to hurt first. Unfortunately for him, his ball lacked weight. And despite an anemic percentage of first serves at Tiafoe (44% in the first set), Nadal failed to win on the return.
On the contrary, it was often him who was under pressure, forced to step back just after his resumption of support. And the first break point of the match was in favor of Tiafoe. Excellent in return, he pushed Nadal to the fault and broke away to lead 4-3. Nadal tried to unbreak with all his might, but Tiafoe held on and kept his advantage until the end of the set.
Nadal snatches the second set, but lacks legs in the third
The second set looked exactly like the first. Nadal couldn’t shake Tiafoe, while he himself took a few missiles in the face. But the Spaniard will have had the merit of hanging on, as always. And in the tenth game of the set, he finally managed to take the service of Tiafoe, on a double fault of the latter. Were we going to witness this scenario known by heart of a jostled Nadal but who manages to turn the match in his favor by dint of abnegation? Not this time.
First because Nadal seemed less fit in this third set. And, above all, because Tiafoe managed to raise his level even more while Nadal’s stagnated dangerously. A long backhand line offered the break to Tiafoe (4-3). Back to the wall, Nadal tried to put pressure on his opponent, but he did not have the means. After a double fault from fear, Tiafoe placed two forehand flashes and an ace to lead two sets to one.
Tiafoe is gaining momentum, Nadal stays put
Nadal could have believed in a scenario close to the one that saw him overthrow Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final when he made the break, well helped by a Tiafoe who found himself on a volley well within his reach. Disturbed by the closing of the roof during the game, Tiafoe seemed to be on the verge of leaving the match as Nadal began to exult and seek the support of the public. Led 3-1, Tiafoe did not get out of his tracks and broke in stride, perfectly countering too much of a lag from Nadal.
Increasingly efficient on the return, slamming aces (18) at the right times, Tiafoe was the master of the court. Nadal could not train him in his sector and suffered his wrath. After a superb counter-amortization, the American got two break points that looked like match points. Nadal dismissed the first with a service winner, but on the second, his backhand died in the net. Tiafoe was back in front (4-3) and was not going to stop on the way. It was on a final break (the third in the set) that he won and could finally let go of his emotions. Now Andrey Rublev is waiting for him.
This is Rafael Nadal’s first Grand Slam defeat this season. The Spaniard, winner of the Australian Open and Roland-Garros, withdrew before his Wimbledon semi-final against Nick Kyrgios.