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American Frances Tiafoe stuns Rafael Nadal to make US Open quarterfinals

Frances Tiafoe ended Rafael Nadal’s 22-match winning streak at Grand Slam tournaments by defeating the 22-time major champion 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the US Open’s fourth round on Monday.

Tiafoe buried his head in his hands and cried on the court after he shook hands with Nadal. He sat on the bench and buried his head in a towel as Nadal walked off and waved to the crowd.

The 24-year-old Tiafoe is the youngest American man to reach the quarterfinals at the US Open since Andy Roddick in 2006. It’s the second major quarterfinal of his career.

“I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m beyond happy. I can’t believe it,” said Tiafoe, who faces No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev next. “He’s one of the greatest of all time. I played unbelievable tennis today, but I don’t even know what happened.”

Here’s what happened: Tiafoe served better than No. 2 seed Nadal. More surprisingly, he returned better, too. And he kept his cool, remained in the moment and never let the stakes or the opponent get to him.

Nadal had acquired both of their previous matches, and every set they played, too. He was 31-2 in majors versus Americans entering Monday’s match and had won 27 consecutive since losing to James Blake in 2005.

“Well done for him,” Nadal said. “He was better than me.”

This surprise came a day after one of Tiafoe’s pals, Nick Kyrgios, eliminated No. 1 seed and defending champion Daniil Medvedev.

Nadal won the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June. Then he made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon in July before withdrawing from that tournament because of a torn abdominal muscle; that does not go into the books as a loss, because he pulled out before the match.

The 36-year-old from Spain competed only once in the 1½ months between leaving the All England Club and arriving in New York while recovering from that injury. His play, in particular his serve, has not been up to his usual standards at the US Open, which he has won four times.

Nadal tweaked his service motion, tossing the ball lower than he normally does so as not to put as much strain on his midsection while reaching with his racket. There were plenty of signs Monday that his serve is just not in tip-top shape: nine double faults, a first-serve percentage hovering around 50%, five breaks by Tiafoe.

The next-to-last break came for a 4-3 edge in the fourth set, when Nadal put a backhand into the net, and Tiafoe skipped backward toward the sideline for the ensuing changeover, his fist raised. Fifteen minutes later, Tiafoe broke again, and it was over.

When one last backhand by Nadal found the net, Tiafoe put his hands on his head. When he sat in his sideline chair, he buried his face in a towel.

“When I first came on the scene, a lot of people had limitations on what I would do. … I wasn’t ‘ready for it mentally.’ I wasn’t ‘mature,'” Tiafoe said.

But these days, he added, “I’m able to just do me and do it my way and enjoy the game I love.” This represents the latest significant step forward for Tiafoe, whose only previous trip to a Grand Slam quarterfinal came at the 2019 Australian Open — and ended with a loss to Nadal. Tiafoe thanked a long list of folks who were in the stands, counting his parents — they emigrated from Sierra Leone in West Africa and his worked as a maintenance man at a tennis facility near the U.S. capital — his girlfriend and Washington Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal.

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