American Frances Tiafoe earned his first win against Rafael Nadal with a brilliant performance Monday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The No. 22 seed took out the 22-time Grand Slam singles champion, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, to advance to his second Grand Slam quarterfinal.
The moment that shocked the sports world.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 5, 2022
Nadal had not lost a match at a major this year (he won the Australian Open and French Opens, but was forced to retire before the semifinal at Wimbledon). Nadal had won 11 matches in a row in Flushing Meadows, dating back to 2019 (he did not play here in 2020 or 2021). Nadal was vying for a record-tying fifth US Open crown and 23rd major title overall. He finishes the year with two majors.
Rafael Nadal returned to New York after a three-year hiatus with some lofty goals in mind. The Spaniard was seeking a record-tying fifth US Open singles title, a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam singles title and, who knows, maybe even a return to No. 1 for the first time since January 2020.
Despite a pair of injury setbacks—a rib stress fracture in Indian Wells, an abdominal tear at Wimbledon—the 36-year-old was still in the hunt for three of the four majors, a perfect 19-0 at the big-stage events, his lone blemish his semifinal pullout at Wimbledon.
But Rafael Nadal, the US Open champion in 2010, 2013, 2017 and 2019, was never really able to summon his best form in Flushing Meadows. He dropped the opening set of his first-round matchup with inexperienced wildcard Rinky Hijikata of Australia; and got off to a sluggish start in the second round against Italy’s Fabio Fognini, an opening set he called among the very worst of his career.
“I was not able to hold a high level of tennis for a long time,” said Rafael Nadal, who still has a shot at No. 1. “I was not quick enough in my movement. He was able to take the ball too many times very early, so I was not able to push him back. Tennis is a sport of position a lot of times. If not, you need to be very, very quick and very young. I am not in that moment anymore.”
My shots need to be better,” he continued. “In some ways, my understanding of the game and the quality of my shots were not good enough, were poor.”
“I had been practicing well the week before, honestly. But then, when the competition started, my level went down. That’s the truth. For some reason, I don’t know, mental issues in terms of a lot of things happened the last couple of months. But it doesn’t matter. In the end, the only thing that happened is we went to the fourth round of the US Open and I faced a player that was better than me. And that’s why I am having a plane ride back home.”