American Frances Tiafoe pulled off a stunning bout on Monday, toppling Rafael Nadal in the round of 16 at the US Open and advancing to the quarter-finals with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6- 3.
Entering the tournament as the 22nd ranked player in the world, Tiafoe entered the round of 16 as the last American remaining in the tournament.
He was already the first American to reach the fourth round in three consecutive years since Mardy Fish in 2010-12. But the 24-year-old is now the youngest American to reach the quarter-finals since Andy Roddick at 24 in 2006.
It was a huge upset and one that will radically reshape the entire men’s draw for the rest of the tournament.
Four-time US Open champion Nadal was the highest-ranked player after number one Daniil Medvedev lost to Nick Kyrgios on Sunday night. Nadal had already won the last 22 Grand Slam matches he had appeared in, including the title at the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June.
He was also 21-1 against the Americans since October 2017, which included straight-set wins over Tiafoe in the 2019 Australian Open quarter-finals and 2019 Madrid third round. In fact, the American n had never won a set against Nadal before their match today.
But sometimes all you need is a day.
Tiafoe attacked Nadal the whole game. Despite only connecting on 50% of his first serves, he hit 18 aces and won 76% of the points he landed on his first serve. He also beat the Spaniard with groundstrokes all game, collecting 49 winners to just 33 from his opponent.
“Yeah, that was definitely a hell of a performance,” Tiafoe said after the game. “I played really well today. Yeah, I guess, I mean, I just came out and I just believed I could do it.
The underdog also knew how to capitalize when opportunities presented themselves. He converted five of his eight break points against Nadal, while the favorite could win only two of his six chances.
“I had a bad game and he had a good game,” Nadal explained. “In the end that’s it, right? I couldn’t hold on to high-level tennis for long. I was not fast enough in my movements. He was able to take the ball too many times early on, so I couldn’t push him away.
However, that doesn’t quite reflect how good Tiafoe was. A night after watching Nick Kyrgios destroy the world number one player, the 24-year-old American absolutely dominated Nadal today.
After Nadal’s final backhand found the net to secure the victory for the American, Tiafoe put his hands on his head. When he sat down in his sideline chair, he buried his face in a towel.
“I don’t even know what to say right now. I am more than happy. I can’t believe it,” Tiafoe said. “He’s one of the greatest of all time. I played amazing tennis today, but I don’t even know what happened.
With the win, he became the first American to beat Nadal in a major match since being ousted by James Blake at the 2005 US Open. Nadal also never recovered from a 2-1 decline at the US Open and fell to 0-7 against that deficit at Flushing Meadows.
“He played well,” admitted Nadal. “As I said, he did a lot of things very well. But if you want to be in the US Open quarterfinals, I have to do better. It’s clear. I couldn’t do anything, none of those things this afternoon. So he was able to do it. He played with the right determination, yeah. Congratulations to him. I wish him all the best.
Beating Nadal and making it to the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam is a huge achievement for any tennis player, but it’s especially special for Tiafoe given how hard he had to work to get there.
“I am a son of immigrants, both parents grew up in Sierra Leone, were born and raised in Sierra Leone. I came to the United States in the early 90s, late 80s, around. My father, who was a maintenance worker at a club, helped build a ’99 club. My mom being a nurse, working two jobs, working overtime at night.
“Being around tennis kind of took us out of our neighborhood. My father was somehow able to watch over us. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Once we got into the game of tennis, my dad said, “It would be great if you could use this as a full scholarship to go to school.” I mean, we couldn’t afford a university. So use the game of tennis.
Use the tennis game he made. Reach heights that even he did not think possible.
“At that time, watching Serena and Venus play the Grand Slam finals at that time, when I was super young. I was like, it would be cool to play Wimbledon, play on Arthur Ashe and stuff like that.
The American will now face Russian Andrey Rublev, the ninth ranked player entering the tournament on Wednesday.
“So now it’s something to say to the kids, to the grandkids,” Tiaofe said. “Yes, I beat Rafa. I hope I never play him again, but I hope I end up with a win.