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Tiafoe Stuns Nadal, Sets Up US Open Quarterfinal vs. Rublev

Frances Tiafoe of the United States shakes hands after defeating Rafael Nadal of Spain at the US Open. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Gazing up at the closed retractable roof, Rafael Nadal looked like a man searching skyward for solutions to the problems that plagued him.

Closing off angles with command, Frances Tiafoe had all the answers showing the 2019 US Open champion the door.

An energized Tiafoe streaked through five straight games stunning second-seeded Nadal 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to soar into his maiden US Open quarterfinal.

In the space of 24 hours, we’ve seen a seismic shift in the US Open draw as two charismatic talents have taken a wrecking ball to top seeds. Nick Kyrgios toppled world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev last night and Tiafoe took down Nadal, who carried a 22-0 record in 2022 Grand Slam matches, with a career-best performance today.

The magnitude of the moment left an emotional Tiafoe in tears as a crescendo of crowd cheers filled his ears.

“I don’t even know what to say: I’m beyond happy,” Tiafoe told ESPN’s James Blake after pulling off the biggest US Open win by an American man since wild card Blake upset world No. 2 Nadal in the 2005 third round. “I’m moved to tears.

“Can’t believe it, can’t believe it. He’s definitely one of the greatest of all time. I played unbelievable tennis today. Yeah, I really don’t know what happened.”

What happened is Tiafoe tore the draw wide open.

It marks the first time since 2000 both US Open men’s top seeds are out before the quarterfinals and could signal a major shift at the top of the sport. If third-seeded Carlos Alcaraz or fifth-seeded Casper Ruud reach the final, then they will rise to world No. 1. If neither Alcaraz nor Ruud reach the final, then the 36-year-old Nadal will regain the top spot.

The 24-year-old Tiafoe boldly declared his game-plan for the king of clay after his third-round win over Diego Schwartzman.

“I believe I can beat him…I’m definitely going to come after him,” Tiafoe said.

Tiafoe took it to Nadal today exuding more energy, covering the court quicker, taking the ball earlier and hammering drives down the line at crunch time becoming the youngest American man to reach the US Open quarterfinals since a 24-year-old Andy Roddick back in 2006. 

The defeat snaps Nadal’s 10-match US Open winning streak and ends his quest for a fifth US Open crown and a record-extending 23rd major championship.

A philosophical Nadal summed up his loss simply: Tiafoe outplayed him.

“Easy, I played a bad match and he played a good match so at the end that’s it,”Nadal told the media afterward. “It was not able to hold a high level of tennis for a long time. I was not enough quick on my movements and he was able to take the ball too many times very early so I was not able to push him back.

“Yeah, tennis is a sport of position a lot of times. If not you need to be very very quick and very young and I am not in the momentum anymore. My adjustments need to be better. In some ways my understanding of the game and the quality of my shots were not enough good were poor. I have to say today because I was not able to create damage for him. Well done for him, he was better than me.”

Don’t call Tiafoe an underachiever anymore, the former junior world No. 2 now joins Kyrgios and Alcaraz as a major contender for this US Open. Next up for Tiafoe is hard-hitting Russian Andrey Rublev, whom the American edged in five sets at the 2021 US Open.

The ninth-seeded Rublev rolled seventh-seeded Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 earlier today.