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Tearful Tiafoe upsets Nadal after an outstanding performance and advances to quarter-finals

Frances Tiafoe beat Rafael Nadal 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Monday evening and will play Andrey Rublev, the No 9 seed, in the quarter-finals.

Nadal_Tiafoe_USOpen_2022 Nadal_Tiafoe_USOpen_2022 ; AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Frances Tiafoe (n°22) had obviously dreamt of that moment all his tennis life. So when Rafael Nadal netted a backhand on match point (6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3), Tiafoe not only qualified for his first quarter-final and became the youngest (24 years old) American to do that here since Andy Roddick in 2004: he achieved one of his biggest dreams.

The racquet flew away, and the tears started to roll even when he was giving a hug to Nadal. Shocked, elated, and in tears: those are the images Frances Tiafoe will leave after the biggest performance of his career. Moving the entire Arthur Ashe stadium, as it’s always so reassuring to see a player who cares that much.

18 aces. 48 winners. Frances Tiafoe

And Tiafoe cares a lot about tennis! He’s among the hardest workers out there, surely because his family had nothing when it all started. And Tiafoe wants to do well, wants to make them proud, wants to prove he belongs. So he worked again and again on a game whose potential was as tremendous as its flaws were obvious. Looking at him being so bold in his attacks, being so confident coming to the net (17/24), one nearly forgets that not so long ago you would close your eyes when he was in a position to hit a volley.

Frances Tiafoe, US Open 2022
Frances Tiafoe, US Open 2022 ; AI / Reuters / Panoramic

This is the young man who on Monday rolled on Rafael Nadal for the majority of the match. Hanging in there with the 22 Grand Slam champion even from the baseline, something that also proves how much he has improved lately on that backhand. Tiafoe on Monday on Ashe decided it was his time to shine and he just went for everything, which is the only way to get through Rafael Nadal when you have the power but not the relentless PlayStation-like game style of a Novak Djokovic. 18 aces. 48 winners (for 28 unforced errors). Tiafoe dictated everything, took every chance, didn’t fear missing, didn’t get scared by the legend’s aura and so was rewarded.

Nadal’s serve wasn’t going to get him that number 23 here

Rafael Nadal looked very disappointed right after the match point and for sure many things would play into that. The abdominal injury that destroyed his Wimbledon surely came to also play in his US Open. He never served that well, and if he somehow compensated for that flaw until that match, it came back to haunt him against Tiafoe.

53% of first serves against such a powerful opponent who is basically just waiting for a chance to blast a forehand and start putting the pressure on? It wasn’t going to cut it. Tiafoe had his hand on Nadal’s throat way too often and too early in the points. On hardcourt on a so-so day, it can end very wrong for the Spaniard and it did in that match.

The other consequence of that terrific performance of Tiafoe? That draw has gone wild and the throne is at stake more than ever! Nadal can still become World n°1 if Carlos Alcaraz AND Casper Ruud don’t reach the final. Ruud OR Alcaraz can get the throne if they are runner-up, but not in front of each other, and if they meet in the final it’ll be a “the winner takes it all” situation. It’s about to get crazy in NYC.

Tiafoe, ranked No 26, will now try to recover from all the emotions of the day and from the fact that he’s now “the guy who beat Rafael Nadal to play Andrey Rublev, the No 9 seed, next”. But the size of the accomplishment is so huge that it could take a toll.

Tiafoe just did what nobody has done in Grand Slam this year: beating Rafael Nadal. He also prevented the Spaniard from writing another page of history with a 23rd Major title. There was so much on the line! It always takes an unreal performance to get Rafael Nadal out of a Grand Slam event and that’s why it’s been a very rare thing. But on Monday on Ashe, Frances Tiafoe took his destiny into his own hands and showed, again, what self-belief can do at this level.

US Open, other last 16 results:

  • Marin Čilić vs. Carlos Alcaraz
  • Ilya Ivashka vs. Jannik Sinner
  • Andrey Rublev beat Cameron Norrie (7): 6-4, 6-4, 6-4
  • Nick Kyrgios (23) beat Daniil Medvedev (1): 7-6 (11), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2
  • Karen Khachanov (27) beat Pablo Carreno Busta (12): 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3
  • Casper Ruud (5) beat Corentin Moutet (LL): 6-1, 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-2
  • Matteo Berrettini (13) beat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina: 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3, 4-6, 6-2
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