Frances Tiafoe stunned four-time champion Rafael Nadal 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Monday at the US Open to reach his second Grand Slam quarter-final.
The pumped-up American of Sierra Leaonean origin played fearlessly throughout the three-hour, 31-minute thriller on Arthur Ashe Stadium to earn his third Top 5 win. Tiafoe hammered the ball off both wings and rallied from a break down in the fourth set to become the first American man to reach the last eight in New York since John Isner in 2018 and the youngest to accomplish the feat since Andy Roddick in 2006.
"I'm beyond happy, almost in tears, I can't believe it," Tiafoe said in his on-court interview. "I played unbelievable tennis today. I really don't know what happened."
24-year-old had never won a set against Nadal and trailed the Spaniard 0-2 in their ATP Head2Head series prior to their meeting in New York. However, the American struck 49 winners to turn the tables in style, gaining revenge for his quarter-final defeat at the Australian Open in 2019.
“At 4-3 [in the fourth set], when I went up 40/0, my legs were like cement,” Tiafoe said. “I just needed to get out of the game and then pray to god that I don’t have to serve for it. I was lucky enough to get out of that game. I came out not giving Rafa all the respect. I came out to win a tennis match if front of you guys.”
The 22nd seed will next play Andrey Rublev after the ninth seed downed Briton Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Nadal was chasing his fifth title in New York and a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam crown this fortnight. The 36-year-old, who won the first two majors of the year at the Australian Open and Roland Garros, is currently No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.
However, his defeat has opened the World No. 1 door for #NextGenATP Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz and Norway’s Casper Ruud.
In a lively first set, Tiafoe quickly found his range from the baseline. He struck his flat groundstrokes with conviction and demonstrated his agility, chasing down everything the Spaniard threw at him to move ahead.
Having lost the first set in two of his three matches in the opening week in New York, Nadal remained calm. He stuck with Tiafoe and capitalised on errors from the American in the 10th game of the second set to gain a foothold. When serving at 4-5, 15/15, the American misjudged a backhand from Nadal, leaving a ball that caught the line. He then hit a double fault at 30/40 to gift the Spaniard the set.
However, Tiafoe quickly put the disappointment behind him and responded with heavy hitting. The American fired a backhand winner at 3-3, 30/40 to convert the first break point of the set, before he stayed strong on serve.
In a tight fourth set, Nadal struck first to move 3-1 ahead. Tiafoe stuck to his game plan, though, and worked his way back into the set. He swung freely and held his nerve, rolling off five straight games to seal a historic win. With the crowd on its feet, the American let out a roar before he embraced Nadal at the net.
“When I first came on the scene I felt like a lot of people had a lot of expectations on me on how I would do,” Tiafoe said. “I wasn’t ready for it mentally. I wasn’t mature enough for it. These past couple of years, when the tension hasn’t been on me I have been able to develop. I have a great team behind me. I am just putting my head down and I am happy with where I am in life in general. I am able to do me and do it my way and enjoy the game I love.”
Tiafoe eliminated Marcos Giron, Jason Kubler and Diego Schwartzman in straight sets during the opening week in New York and is now up to No. 24 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. Earlier this season he enjoyed a run to the final in Estoril, before he advanced to the fourth round at Wimbledon.