Tiafoe Hands Nadal First Grand Slam Defeat Of Season

Frances Tiafoe (photo: Garrett Ellwood/USTA)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 6, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

From first ball to last ball, Frances Tiafoe played fearless tennis against 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal during their US Open fourth-round match inside Arthur Ashe Stadium Monday afternoon.

At the end of their three-hour, 34-minute battle, it was the 24-year-old American from Maryland – pumped up and hammering winners from both wings – who came from a break down in the fourth set to prevail 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 over the 36-year-old Spaniard, a four-time US Open champion who was going for No. 5 and his first in New York since 2019.

Nadal had won the first two majors of 2022, at the Australian Open and Roland Garros, but Tiafoe was not to be denied – and the near-24,000 fans who filled Ashe on the Labor Day holiday brought Tiafoe to tears after he secured match point and handed Nadal his first Grand Slam defeat of the season. (Nadal withdrew from the Wimbledon Championships before his semifinal match with Nick Kyrgios because of an abdominal injury.)

With World No. 1 and top seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia already eliminated, Nadal is currently No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. However, his defeat means that fellow Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz and Casper Ruud of Norway still have a chance of gaining the No. 1 ranking by the end of the US Open on Sunday.

Monday’s victory provided the No. 22 seed Tiafoe with his third Top-5 win – and second in a major – and he became the first American man since John Isner in 2018 to reach the quarterfinal round at Flushing Meadows – and the youngest since Andy Roddick (at age 22) in 2004.

“I’m beyond happy, almost in tears,” Tiafoe told ESPN‘s James Blake, the last American to beat Nadal at the US Open back in 2005 (when Tiafoe was just seven-years-old), during his on-court interview. “I can’t believe it. I played unbelievable tennis today. I really don’t know what happened.”

Consider this: Tiafoe had never won a set against Nadal in their first two meetings, including the quarterfinals of the 2019 Australian Open. This time, Tiafoe went for broke, won the first set – Nadal lost the first set in two of his first three matches – and fired 18 aces to go along with 49 winners. He converted five of eight break-point opportunities and outpointed Nadal 120-110. Although Nadal countered with nine aces and 33 winners of his own, he also committed 26 unforced errors and served nine double faults.

“At 4-3 [in the fourth set], when I went up 40-love, my legs were like cement,” Tiafoe admitted. “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 in front of you guys.”

In press, Nadal accepted his defeat with grace and dignity. “The difference is easy,” he said. “I played a bad match and he played a good match. At the end that’s it. I was not able to hold a high level of tennis for a long time. I was not enough quick on my movements. 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 no tin that moment anymore. My shots needed to be better. In some way, my understanding of the game and the quality of my shots were not good enough, were poor, I think I have to say today, because I was not able to create that much [against] him.”

With wins against Marcos Giron, Jason Kubler, No. 14 seed Diego Schwartzman and Nadal, Tiafoe has climbed to two spots No. 24 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. On Wednesday, he will face No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia. Tiafoe still has to win three matches to lift his first Grand Slam trophy, but he is a believer in his abilities – and the charismatic American will have the crowd cheering for him to succeed.

The bottom line according to Tiafoe: “I’m here to win the US Open. I want to go all the way.”

Rublev shuts down Norrie to reach fifth major quarterfinal

Ninth seed Andrey Rublev reached his fifth Grand Slam quarterfinal after shutting down Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, in two hours and 26 minutes on Louis Armstrong Stadium Monday afternoon.

The 24-year-old Russian fired 30 winners, made just 17 unforced errors, won 79 percent of his first-serve points and beat a Top-10 opponent at the US Open for the fourth time.

“It was tough, especially when we’ve known each other for a long time,” Rublev said of the No. 7 seed Norrie during his on-court interview. “Last time he beat me, so of course I was coming on court thinking I need to give my best, play really well, and I think today I played a good match.”

Rublev didn’t seem deterred by a rain delay, up a break and leading 3-2 in the second set, which forced the closure of the roof on Armstrong for the remainder of the match.

“Cameron maybe was a bit tired, because in some moments he helped me. But this is the US Open, this is a Grand Slam and everyone is nervous, everyone is tight, everyone wants to win,” Rublev said. “So, this is normal. In the end, I was able to win in three sets and I’m super happy.”

Now, Rublev is through to his third US Open quarterfinal, where he’s 17-6 lifetime at Flushing Meadows.

Pegula reaches third major quarterfinal this season

American No. 1 Jessica Pegula, seeded eighth at this year’s US Open, won the final six games of her fourth-round match against two-time major titlist Petra Kvitova and beat the Czech star, 6-3, 6-2, on Arthur Ashe Stadium to advance to her third major quarterfinal of 2022.

“I just told myself not to get frustrated,” Pegula explained, after losing the first two games of the second set. “I wanted to stay committed to hitting my spots and was able to work my way back.”

Soon, after Pegula broke Kvitova to start the match, there was an eight-minute rain delay. Then, after Kvitova broke back and played three points on her next service game, the rain returned – this time enough that it required the roof over Ashe to be closed and it was followed by a lengthy, 45-minute stoppage to make the court playable before the competitors resumed. The native of Buffalo, N.Y. finished with seven winners and 13 unforced errors. She converted six of seven break-point chances and outpointed Kvitova 58-39.

Pegula, who has dropped just one set during the New York fortnight, will face World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek. She’s through to the second week of the US Open for the first time after reaching the quarterfinals this season at the Australian Open and Roland Garros.

Swiatek rallies from a set down to win, ends Niemeier’s run

Germany’s Jule Niemeier, who had never won a major main-draw match before this year’s Wimbledon, came within a set of pulling off the biggest upset of the women’s draw Monday afternoon. She took the first set from World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, 6-2.

However, Swiatek, who had never lost to a player ranked outside the Top 100, turned the fourth-round match around in the second and third sets to win 2-6, 6-4, 6-0. The victory over the 108th-ranked Niemeier advanced Swiatek to the US Open quarterfinals, the third major quarterfinal of the season for the Polish star. It also represented Swiatek’s 19th 6-0 set win – a bagel set – the most for any player since Serena Williams produced 25 bagel sets in 2013.

“The quarterfinals is my best [US Open] result,” Swiatek said during her on-court interview inside Louis Armstrong Stadium. “I’m proud of that. For sure, this season it’s really satisfying.”

Looking ahead to Wednesday’s quarterfinal match against No. 8 seed Jessica Pegula of the United States, Swiatek has won two of their three previous meetings, both in 2022 – at Miami (semifinals) and the French Open (quarterfinals).

Pliskova wins battle of former No. 1 players over Azarenka

In a fourth-round baseline clash between former World No. 1 players, No. 22 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic fought past No. 26 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-2, in three hours and two minutes on Louis Armstrong Stadium to advance to Wednesday’s quarterfinal round.

Meeting for the first time since 2019, the 2016 US Open runner-up Pliskova won for the fifth time in nine meetings against Azarenka, a three-time US Open finalist (2012, 2013, 2020). She hit 53 winners to 36 unforced errors, while Azarenka countered with 46 winners and 39 unforced errors.

Pliskova outpointed her opponent 129-119 to advance against No. 6 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who took out No. 19 seed Danielle Collins of the United States, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, in two hours and 29 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium Monday evening. The World No. 6 Sabalenka hit eight aces, struck 38 winners and outpointed Collins 99-86.

Koolhof and Skupski remain alive in quest for first Grand Slam title

No. 2 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain were pushed to three sets by Aussies Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell but prevailed 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-3 in two hours and 10 minutes to advance to the quarterfinal round of the men’s doubles competition.

The Dutch-British duo are three wins away from winning their first major crown. They’ve won six tour-level titles this season and last week became the first team to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals.

Next, Koolhof and Skupski will face Marcelo Demoliner of Brazil and João Sousa of Portugal, who advanced over Italians Lorenzo Sonego and Andrea Vavassori, 7-6 (4), 6-4.

Also advancing were No. 11 seeds Harri Heliovaara of Finland and Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain, who eliminated reigning Australian Open champs and No. 8 seeds Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7) in two hours and 10 minutes. They will face Colombians Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. The 2019 US Open champs, seeded 13th, eliminated fourth seeds Tim Puetz of Germany and Michael Venus of New Zealand, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-3, in two hours and 36 minutes.

Monday’s US Open results

Tuesday’s US Open order of play

The road to a new ATP Tour World No. 1

By the numbers

• The last American man to beat Rafael Nadal at the US Open? Try James Blake, who beat the then-World No. 2 Spaniard in the third round in 2005.

• With both Daniil Medvedev and Rafael Nadal gone in the fourth round, the last time the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds did not make the men’s quarterfinals at the US Open was in 2000, after top seed Andre Agassi went out in the second round and No. 2 seed Gustavo Kuerten was upset int the first round.

• Before Monday, Jessica Pegula had lost both of her previous matches against Petra Kvitova, including a straight-set, third-rounder at the US Open in 2020. Pegula had also lost all three previous matches against seeds at the US Open: to No. 4 Agnieszka Rawanska in 20216, No. 6 Kviotva in 2020 and No. 11 Belinda Bencic in 2021.

“Quotable …”

“I’m just proud that I didn’t lose hope. I had a hard time pushing her back. I’m pretty glad it worked. I used my experience to keep my level the whole match.”

– World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek, during her on-court interview, describing her positive feelings after coming back from a set down to defeat Jule Niemeier to reach the US Open quarterfinals.

“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. 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.”

– American Frances Tiafoe, during his on-court interview, after upsetting World No. 3 and second seed Rafael Nadal in four sets Monday afternoon to reach the quarterfinal round.