Rafael Nadal attributed his first Grand Slam defeat in more than a year to a “bad match” when he was stunned by American Frances Tiafoe in the fourth round of the US Open.
Nadal was looking for his third Slam title of the year after winning the Australian Open and French Open to take the overall lead but he was edged out by Tiafoe in a 6-4 4-6 6-4 6 : 3-win overwhelms the tournament wide open.
After retiring from Wimbledon in early 2022 through injury and missing both the US Open and Wimbledon tournaments in 2021, it was Nadal’s first defeat at a Slam since losing to Novak Djokovic in the French Open semifinals last spring.
Nadal gave a blunt assessment of his performance at Arthur Ashe Stadium, saying: “The difference is simple: I played a bad match and he played a good match.
“I haven’t been able to maintain a high level in tennis for a long time. I wasn’t quick enough in my movements. He could take the ball very early too many times that I couldn’t push him back.
“Tennis is often a positional sport. If not, you must be very, very fast and very young. I’m not in this moment anymore. Well done to him. He was better than me.”
No American has won a Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick at Flushing Meadows in 2003, by far the longest drought in tennis history.
Now Tiafoe, the 24-year-old son of immigrants from Sierra Leone who as a child slept in the office of a tennis center in Maryland where his father was the janitor, is in the middle of a tournament that lost first defending champion Daniil Medvedev and now Nadal.
The result leaves 2014 champion Marin Cilic, who was due to play Carlos Alcaraz in Monday’s night session, as the only former Slam winner, while it marks the first time in almost 20 years that Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams are all absent from the latter stages of a major tournament.
Tiafoe, who took to the pitch in a hoodie to celebrate Williams’ greatness, said of his win, “I don’t even know what to say right now. I can not believe it. He’s one of the greatest of all time. I played really good tennis. Something special happened today.”
Nadal headed into the US Open just before games after suffering a abdominal tear that forced him to withdraw from Wimbledon ahead of the semifinals.
He lost sets to Rinky Hijikata and Fabio Fognini in the first two rounds but looked more like himself in a straight-set win over Richard Gasquet on Saturday.
Tiafoe, whose only Slam quarterfinal came in Australia three years ago, hadn’t lost a set before the match and took advantage of some inertia and unexpected mistakes from Nadal to win the first set.
When Nadal returned from an eight-and-a-half minute break, there was some booing for Nadal, which included taping his wrists to counteract the dampness, but he used his chance at the end of the second to level the match.
The Spaniard still didn’t look satisfied, however, and Tiafoe ran to his chair after breaking serve in the third set and won it with one of the best games of the tournament, cracking two winners and an ace.
Nadal tried to inject some energy into his performance early in the fourth set and he took a 3-1 lead with Tiafoe distracted by the roof closing, but this wasn’t the Nadal who has won four titles in New York, and his opponent rushed to the finish line.
Nadal downplayed the effects of his disrupted build-up, saying: “Obviously that wasn’t the ideal preparation for me.
“We can’t find any excuses. To be honest, I trained well the week before. But then when the competition started, my level dropped. For some reason I don’t know, maybe mental issues related to a lot of things that have happened over the past few months.
Nadal’s wife is expecting her first child at home in Mallorca and has reportedly had complications with the pregnancy.
The 36-year-old is due to play at the Laver Cup in London later this month but that seems in doubt as Nadal said: “I have to go back.
“I have to fix things, my life, then I don’t know when I’ll come back. I’ll try to be mentally ready. When I feel like I’m ready to compete again, I’ll be there.”
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/tennis/rafael-nadal-daniil-medvedev-marin-cilic-frances-tiafoe-australian-open-b2160485.html Rafael Nadal attributes his first Grand Slam defeat in over a year to ‘bad match’