Rafael Nadal dumped out of US Open by inspired Frances Tiafoe

Rafael Nadal dumped out of US Open by inspired Frances Tiafoe - USA TODAY
Rafael Nadal dumped out of US Open by inspired Frances Tiafoe - USA TODAY
  • Tiafoe storms to first set 6-4 against subdued Nadal

  • Spaniard hits back to snatch second set and level match

  • American claims next two sets for first-ever win over Nadal

Rafael Nadal was eliminated from the US Open by the effervescent talent of Frances Tiafoe, the American No 2, who delivered the finest performance of what has previously been an unfulfilled career.

Striking the ball with great pace and conviction, Tiafoe stormed to a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory in 3hr 34min. Nadal later congratulated his opponent for “doing a lot of things well” but admitted that he himself hadn’t been able to generate “interior power” after an injury-wracked build-up.

“I don’t think I pushed him enough to make him feel doubt,” said Nadal. “If you want to be in the quarter-finals of the US Open, you have to do things better.”

Rafael Nadal lost his first Grand Slam match of the year - AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
Rafael Nadal lost his first Grand Slam match of the year - AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

For Nadal, it was a rare case of playing against a crowd who preferred his opponent. The roars when Nadal’s final backhand found the net were just as deafening as they had been for any of Serena Williams’s outings here last week. Perhaps even more so, given that the roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium had closed to keep out the local showers.

Nadal saluted the crowd as he left, having completed a grand-slam season in which he won two titles and moved to the top of the all-time leaderboard. Meanwhile Tiafoe – who is an emotional fellow – bawled his eyes out, placing his head in a towel while he tried to compose himself.

Nadal has been battling his body and his game all tournament. He needed a seven-minute break after the first set, during which he apparently visited the physio as well as the bathroom.

Some members of the crowd booed Nadal when he eventually returned to the court, in keeping with an afternoon when patriotism gripped this 24,000-seat arena. American successes have been in short supply here since Sloane Stephens won the US Open title in 2017.

On the men’s side, you have to go back to Andy Roddick in 2003 to find the last champion. And no male player had beaten anyone ranked as high as Nadal at this tournament since 2005, when James Blake took down the same opponent.

Tiafoe was helped by an indifferent serving performance from Nadal, whose ongoing abdominal issue has restricted how much he can practise that shot.

Apart from one period of high intensity in the middle of the third set, Nadal was generally erratic, particularly on his double-handed backhand. Down the home stretch, which saw Tiafoe reel off five of the last six games, he regularly buried the ball in the net.

Tiafoe is one of the great stories of American tennis. The son of immigrants who had fled the civil war in Sierra Leone, he was brought up at the Junior Tennis Champions Centre in Maryland, where his father was the head of maintenance.

Frances Tiafoe deservedly secured a place in the last eight - USA TODAY SPORTS
Frances Tiafoe deservedly secured a place in the last eight - USA TODAY SPORTS

“I really don’t know what happened,” said Tiafoe in his on-court interview, which happened to be hosted by that same James Blake who beat Nadal here in 2005.

His next match against Andrey Rublev – who had taken out British No 1 Cameron Norrie earlier in the day – will be only his second quarter-final from 26 major appearances, which is a poor return for a man of his ability.

In that previous quarter-final, which he played at the 2019 Australian Open, Tiafoe had been comfortably ousted by Nadal himself. Indeed, he had never previously taken a set off Nadal, and had no particular reason to think that this meeting would be any different.

But this has been an unpredictable tournament from first to last, and we are now ready for a second week that features not a single member of the so-called Big Three.

Meanwhile, Nadal’s chances of recovering the world No 1 ranking at the end of this event took a significant hit, with Carlos Alcaraz (depending on his match against Marin Cilic late on Monday) and Casper Ruud both in position to earn that spot if they were to reach the final.

Rafael Nadal vs Frances Tiafoe – as it happened

11:25 PM

Stat attack

Even on a night when he made two more unforced errors than Nadal (28 to 26), Tiafoe was clearly the man in control. His first-serve percentage crept up throughout and ended on 50 per cent. Decent for most players but excellent when you're regularly knocking down first serves at 135mph plus.

11:16 PM

Tiafoe's night

There will be time to assess what happened to Nadal but this is Frances Tiafoe's night.

He performed with control throughout and notwithstanding the two games Nadal won at the end of the second, he was in full control.

Nadal might not have been at his best but Tiafoe's performance certainly played a huge role in that.

It's Andrey Rublev next for Tiafoe. He was very impressive against Cam Norrie earlier today and that has the making of a cracker.

11:13 PM

Frances Tiafoe speaks....

I don't even know to say right now. I'm almost in tears, he's one of the greatest of all time but I played unbelievable tennis today.

When I first came on the scene there were a lot of expectations. It took some time but I've been able to develop over the last two years with a great time behind me.

I played great today. I came out to win a tennis match in front you guys and I'm happy I could do that.

To have my entire team here with me today to see this means more to me than anything

11:08 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-4 4-6 3-6 Frances Tiafoe                             

Tiafoe gets to 0-30 and there appears to be a look of resignation on the face of Rafael Nadal.

That's about as rare as it gets in the tennis world.

HUGE RETURN FROM TIAFOE. And it's three match points.

Nadal saves the first after a Tiafoe forehand finds the net but he nets on his next backhand.


11:04 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 6-4 4-6 3-5 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)                               

Tiafoe, contrary to all the pressure, flies through his service game and gets to 40-0 with ease. He's looking to move to within a game of a US Open semi-final but you wouldn't know it.

Or would you? Two unforced errors bring Nadal to 40-30 and then another brings us to deuce.

Big ace at 134mph gets the American to game point once more but Nadal is too good with a backhand and we're back to deuce.

Two points and it's a huge hold from Tiafoe.

Nadal will serve to stay in it.

10:58 PM

Nadal's game plan

Win or lose. This has been a strange performance from Nadal. You could hardly say he's played badly but his tactics have been at odds with what has worked for him for much of his career.

Huge second serves , regular serving and volleying...these aren't things we associate with Nadal.

It may be a physical limitation. It may just be a bad day. It may be that's he's just undercooked after recovering from his injury at Wimbledon.

Whatever it was, this is not what we are usually accustomed too from the Spaniard.

10:55 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-4 4-6 3-4 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)                               

Nadal is still going for broke on second serve. Is that an indication he feels the rest of his game can't get him over the line here?

Another double fault - his ninth - gives Tiafoe 15-30 but the American then goes long with his return before Nadal's finds a big first serve.

Another error bring us to deuce though and Tiafoe could be in business.....and he is!

Tiafoe responds to Nadal's drop shot with an even better one of his own. and he has a break point.

Nadal saves with a big serve, the match feels like it's on a precipice here.

But that's just too good from Tiafoe, after getting Nadal on the run he secures another break point chance with an assured volley.

NADAL MISSES. Frances Tiafoe is up a break in fourth - he only needs wo more holds of serve.

10:47 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 6-4 4-6 3-3 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)                             

Nadal gets to 0-30. After three service breaks in 30 games we may have three in three here. The closure of the roof appears to have had a big impact on this  match.

Tiafoe responds with a big first serve to take us 15-30 but he then misses an easy backhand and Nadal has break points again.

Tiafoe gets one back after a huge forehand crosscourt proves too much for Nadal to deal with. And then saves the other after Nadal goes long and we're back to deuce.

Back-to-back big serves and its game Tiafoe. That feels like a big statement.

10:41 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-4 4-6 3-2 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)                             

A big serve wide to Tiafoe's forehand brings an error and takes Nadal to 30-15 but then the second double fault of the game lets Tiafoe back in.

A huge Tiafoe return then gives the American an immediate chance to break back.

He's got it! A huge response from Frances Tiafoe.

10:35 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 6-4 4-6 3-1 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)                           

Tiafoe approaches the umpire to complain about the noise of the roof serving but is told to continue.

He then nets a cheap backhand and follows that with a double fault - this roof seems to have got him.

The roof is closed but that hasn't helped the American as he shanks an easy forehand volley.

Two break points for Nadal. Ace from Tiafoe - 137mph!

Tiafoe's got nothing there though and Nadal breaks early in this fourth set.

10:30 PM

Roof time

The roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium is on the move.

Play won't stop though.

10:29 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-4 4-6 2-1 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)                           

Nadal's serving on second serve has been extraordinary. He's taking some big chances but it's paying off for the most part as he reaches 40-0

Until he double faults there though. Classic. An ace finishes the game.

10:25 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 6-4 4-6 1-1 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)                         

Tiafoe is playing terrific tennis here and gets to 40-15 with a delicious drop volley. That really is a touch of class.

Then an ace and another easy hold for the 24-year-old

10:22 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-4 4-6 1-0 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)                         

Tiafoe's ability to stand toe-to-toe at the back of the court with Nadal has been superb so far. He's actually had the better of those exchanges for the most part.

Tiafoe gets to 0-30 and has golden chance with a pass down the line but it falls wide.

Then an incredible point goes to Nadal, Tiafoe gets two balls back that he has absolutely no business even close to before Nadal puts him away.

Ooooo that's an error from Nadal as he nets cheaply and an early break point chance for Tiafoe.

Nadal dials up a big second serve to save the break point, back to deuce. Two big points from Nadal follow.

Crucial hold.

10:14 PM

Break time

Both players have taken decent breaks after that third set.

They're back out now though. Umpire calls time.

The fourth set is about to get underway.

10:07 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 6-4 4-6 0-0 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)                       

A double fault opens the game. Gulp. You don't want to show any tightness now Frances.

His comeback is superb, a searing serve down the middle which gives Nadal no chance.

And now it's Nadal's turn to misjudge one as a Tiafoe mishit drops in, much to the Spaniard's dismay.

OH WOW. Tiafoe brings up three set point with arguably his shot of the match, a forehand winner down the line off a heavy Nadal forehand.

Ace. And that's the third set to Tiafoe.

10:01 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-4 4-5 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)                       

Nadal gives up on point to grab his towel after leaving Tiafoe an easy finish. 15-15.

Tiafoe then goes long on his next return before Nadal produces a superbly worked point ending in a backhand winner to get to 40-15.

Nadal holds. Tiafoe's going to have to serve this out.

09:57 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 6-4 3-5 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)                     

Nadal scrambles incredibly to keep himself in the point and is rewarded with a Tiafoe error.

Ace at 132mph. Ace at 135mph. It think it's fair to say they stay hit when talking about Frances Tiafoe.

It's the opposite end of the spectrum next, a delicate drop shot finds the mark and it's two game points for Tiafoe.

Nadal gets one back with a huge return but then a serve and volley from Tiafoe surprises the Spaniard. Hold

09:53 PM

Rain in the area

Wet weather is expected to hit Flushing Meadows in the next hour.

We could be finishing this one under the roof.

09:52 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-4 3-4 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)                     

Tiafoe is inches away with a crosscourt pass to open the game but Nadal then double faults.

Another error from Nadal brings us to 30-30, a glimmer of light for Tiafoe.

It's more than a glimmer now though. Punishing groundstrokes bring about another Nadal error and it's break point.

He's got it! A backhand winner down the line and Tiafoe wrestles control of the set.

09:45 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 6-4 3-3 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)                   

Nadal's return of serve hasn't been at its best so far today but he seems to finding a little more now.

Tiafoe responds well though, matching Nadal's depth with excellent court location of his own as he gets to 40-15.

Ace. 138mph. Wow. Hold.

09:39 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-4 3-2 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)                   

Tiafoe, sensing an opportunity at 15-15, tries to pick up the pace but Nadal gets control of the rally and through that, the game.

Two game points for Nadal, he needs only one.

He's looking better and better here.

09:35 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 6-4 2-2 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)                 

Tiafoe's absorbs some heavy Nadal groundstrokes and gets a cushion at 30-0. Nadal then nets off a weak-looking second serve from Tiafoe.

Nothing weak about that forehand though. Tiafoe can't get close to Nadal's response to his 132mph serve.

Then an error from Tiafoe, 40-30, but he then rallies and holds.

09:31 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-4 2-1 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)                 

Tiafoe's frustration is clear as a backhand finds the net and takes Nadal to 30-15.

It's soon 40-15 after Nadal produces a stunning forehand in response to a heavy backhand from Tiafoe.

Nadal does the rest and holds

09:27 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 6-4 1-1 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)               

And that's a good start from Tiafoe, who bangs down three big first serves and gets to 40-0 quickly.

A forehand winner ends the game. Great stuff from Tiafoe.

09:25 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-4 1-0 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)               

Easy love hold for Nadal begins the third set and the momentum feels to be very much in his corner now.

Tiafoe needs to hold his serve now.

09:22 PM

He finds a way

Not really sure how Nadal has come away with that one. There was something strange about his game in that set but in the end it's a testament to his greatness that he's come away with it.

Perhaps Tiafoe needed to more aggressive in his search for an early break.

Time for the third.

09:20 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 6-4 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)             

The door is ajar for Nadal here. Tiafoe lets a ball go that he think is going wide but it catches the line and we're at 15-30.

Two points now as Nadal jumps on a short second serve from Tiafoe.

The American saves the first, finding some wicked angles to which Nadal has no response.

But that's a double fault and that's the second set for Rafael Nadal.

Game very much one

09:14 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 5-4 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)             

Tiafoe nearly pulls off a miracle in response to a Nadal smash but can't do anything about about the forehand down the line which ends the next point.

Soon it's 40-0 but a double fault keeps Tiafoe's hopes alive. Then a big forehand winner from the American gets us to 40-30 - can he make something of this?

DOUBLE FAULT! It's deuce now and this a real chance for Tiafoe at the business end of this set.

But that's an error, forcing a backhand crosscourt which flies wide - advantage Nadal.

Game Nadal - superb forehand and Tiafoe must now serve to stay in this set.

09:07 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 4-4 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)           

More struggles for Nadal on the return of serve as Tiafoe races to 40-0 with no real pressure from the other end.

Easy hold.

09:05 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 4-3 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)           

Tiafoe broke in the seventh game of the first set but Nadal shuts the door on that happening again in no uncertain terms.

A comfortable love hold from the Spaniard, who has only dropped two points on serve in this set so far.

Can he find a similar vein of form when returning though? He hasn't had a break point so far against a player who's only making 43 per cent of his first serves.

That's unheard of for a man generally considered to be the greatest breaker of serve in the history of the game.

09:00 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 3-3 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)         

Nadal gets a forehand all wrong after going 0-15 up - a wild miss really for a player of his quality from the back of the court.

Another miss follows - this time of the backhand side - gets Tiafoe to 30-15.

The American then produces a stunning backhand winner crosscourt and an even better forehand winner down the line. Clinical.

08:56 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 3-2 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)         

Now it's Nadal's turn to get to 40-0 but there's no love hold after a beautiful block return from Tiafoe results in a winner.

Tiafoe misses on the next point though and Nadal holds.

08:53 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 2-2 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)       

Tiafoe gets to 40-0 again, Nadal can't get a handle on the American's service games.

Forehand winner down the line. Hold.

Be it Nadal's body or Tiafoe's consistency (it's probably a combination of the both), something isn't working for great man.

08:49 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 2-1 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)       

A wide smile appears on Tiafoe's face after he gets the better of an all-action rally - lobs drop shots....the lot.

However, Nadal maintains control of the game, getting to 40-15  before a big one-two punch secures the hold.

He's looking a little looser now. The serve looks bigger and fist pump is back.....

08:44 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 1-1 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)     

Tiafoe's been nerveless in this one so far and he holds with consummate ease.

The American certainly isn't goin away here. Nadal is going to have grab this one by the scruff of the neck sooner or later.

08:40 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-6 1-0 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)     

Nadal starts quickly, racing to 40-0 before holding with ease.

He jogs to his chair after that, possibly sending a message to Tiafoe and all of us that's feeling good.

Time will tell.

08:36 PM

Odd delay

Nadal been off court for over eight minutes now. Is this a medical time out?

Tiafoe is complaining after the lengthy break. There's nothing obvious to have changed with Nadal - strapping etc.

He'll serve first.

08:33 PM

Credit where credit's due

None of that should take any credit away from Tiafoe, who has bought a level of explosiveness to this match which Nadal has found really tough to handle.

There's no doubt he's in the box seat here, with a berth in the quarter-finals on the line.

08:32 PM

Strange from Nadal

Not sure if there's not something amiss with Nadal here. He just doesn't seem to be moving smoothly and his tactics seem strange - serve volleying, not tracking down seemingly easy balls...it just doesn't seem right.

He's left the court in between sets with his bag and what appeared to be a physio, which would suggest something is giving him problems.

We know his serve is limited by the ab injury but it's not clear whether it's that which is slowing him down here.

08:28 PM

Rafael Nadal* 4-6 0-0 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)   

Tiafoe races to 40-0 as he serves for the set but misses his first chance after a second serve finds the net.

Nadal finds a way to get back to 40-30 but it isn't enough. Powerful hitting from the American sets up an easy volley.

That's the first set to Tiafoe.

08:22 PM

Rafael Nadal 4-5 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)   

Ohhhhh that's class from Tiafoe. Nadal gets to 30-15 but then goes wide to the Tiafoe backhand off his serve and is met with an untouchable backhand winner.

Nadal holds his nerve in response and holds.

The sweat going on out on Ashe as a result of the humidity is something else by the way. Both players a dripping - no hyperbole.

08:17 PM

Rafael Nadal* 3-5 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server) 

A ball boy wears a 134mph fault from Tiafoe to the body without so much as a grimace - fair play mate.

Back on court, Tiafoe is under pressure at 0-30.

But he responds, following a Nadal error with a pair superbly placed forehand winners to get himself to game point.

Nadal fights back though, a well-placed lob gets Tiafoe stretching and the Spaniard easily puts away the follow up.

Ace, then a Nadal winner, then a Tiafoe winner - breathless stuff from both players.

Tiafoe holds. The American is really showing what he can do here.

08:07 PM

Rafael Nadal 3-4 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server) 

Pressure on Nadal as Tiafoe gets to 0-30 with a second serve to face.

But he then goes agonisingly wide with a backhand drop shot before netting a straightforward backhand. We're back 30-30.

But then it's Nadal's turn to make the error and Tiafoe has the chance to get the first break of the match.

Nadal goes long! Tiafoe breaks!

08:00 PM

Rafael Nadal* 3-3 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)

Wow. That's vintage Nadal. Big forehands push Tiafoe wide before the Spaniard finishes the point with a vicious winner.

Tiafoe gets to game point but a great return from Nadal brings us to deuce.  Oh wow....138mph serve. That's tasty from Tiafoe, who then holds.

07:54 PM

Rafael Nadal 3-2 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)

Too good from Nadal, who takes advantage of Tiafoe coming in behind a poor placed approach with a stinging backhand down the line.

The Spaniard races to 40-15 but goes long with a slice backhand, giving Tiafoe a sniff.

It comes to nothing though, Nadal holds.

07:50 PM

Rafael Nadal* 2-2 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)

Nadal begins with a beautiful forehand winner which elicits an audible 'oooooooo' from the crowd on Arthur Ashe.

Tiafoe takes the next two points but then nets with the point at his mercy at 30-15.

A 135mph ace is a pretty good response though and that sets up the hold.

07:45 PM

Rafael Nadal 2-1 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)

A quick one-two punch from Nadal gets him to 30-0 but Tiafoe responds, pinning Nadal down on his backhand side before calmly putting away the volley.

No danger for the 22-time champion though, who holds with ease.

07:41 PM

Rafael Nadal* 1-1 Frances Tiafoe (*denotes next server)

Tiafoe makes a comfortable start, forcing Nadal into several mistakes.

A love hold. A positive opening service game for the American.

07:38 PM

First Set: Rafael Nadal 1-0 Frances Tiafoe* (*denotes next server)

A mixed start from Nadal. An ace is followed by a poor forehand and a double fault.

He responds well though. Two straight points. Ship settled.

07:33 PM

Show time

Nadal to serve. Here. We. Go.

07:30 PM

Tough conditions for the players

It's nearly at 100 per cent humidity at Flushing Meadows this afternoon. With that in mind, handling the conditions could be just as, if not more, important than actually getting the ball over the net.

Nadal is fully accustomed to playing in hot conditions but this kind of humidity is rare in Europe. Could that give Tiafoe an edge?

07:27 PM

Nadal wins the toss

He will serve first

07:26 PM

Here come the players

A big response for the players as they emerge in front of a packed Ashe Ashe.

07:06 PM

Welcome to Arthur Ashe

Rafael Nadal returns to action at the US Open this evening for his fourth round match against American 22nd seed Frances Tiafoe.

The Spaniard, a four-time champion here, has looked ominously good in his opening three matches and will be heavily favoured to get past the admittedly dynamic Tiafoe here. Wins against Richard Gasquet, Fabio Fognini and Rinky Hijikata have come in pretty economic fashion for Nadal, who seems to be managing the limitations put on hos game by the abdominal injury that brought his Wimbledon campaign to an abrupt end at the semi-final stage.

A new ball toss and slower serve have allowed to get around the injury but could that give Tiafoe a way into this match?

On current form, it would take a brave man to bet against Nadal at Flushing Meadows as he goes in search for a third Grand Slam title of the season and a record-extending 23rd overall.

However in Tiafoe he faces an intriguing opponent, who will have home support on his side despite Nadal being a true fan favourite in New York.

The 24-year-old has enjoyed something of a breakout season in 2022, which has seen him break into the world’s top 25 for the first time. His form in this event so far has done little to quell expectations, with three straight set wins including a demolition of Argentine 14th seed Diego Schwartzman.

Andrey Rublev awaits the winner of this one in the quarter-finals.