NEW YORK • A defiant Rafael Nadal vowed to fight on and restore his status as one of tennis' most feared players, after crashing to his earliest US Open exit in 10 years.
The 14-time Grand Slam winner was knocked out by Italy's Fabio Fognini, who pulled off a sensational 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 third-round victory on Friday.
The stunning result confirmed the sad decline of the 2010 and 2013 champion. Until Friday, he had won 151 Grand Slam matches when he had taken the first two sets.
Nadal will also finish the season without at least one Grand Slam title for the first time since 2004.
It was the 15th defeat of his sub-par year, which had seen him beat just two top-10 players. His best performances at the Grand Slams were quarter-final runs at the Australian and French Opens.
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
After the first two sets, I said 'Okay, just concentrate, keep trying and anything can happen.'
years," said the Spaniard, who also lost for just the second time in his career at the French Open and endured a second-round exit at Wimbledon this year.
"By the way, for me, it was amazing to win 10 years in a row a Grand Slam. You can imagine how difficult it is to make that happen. I have to accept that it was not my year and keep fighting till the end of the season to finish in a positive way.
10-YEAR STREAK HALTED
This year will mark the first year since 2005 that Rafael Nadal will not win at least one Grand Slam title - a record 10-year run which eclipses greats like Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer (all on eight years).
2005 French Open
2006 French Open
2007 French Open
2008 French Open, Wimbledon
2009 Australian Open
2010: French Open, Wimbledon, US Open
2011 French Open
2012 French Open
2013 French Open, US Open
2014 French Open
"I'm not happy but I accept (Fognini) was better. I didn't play bad. I fight until the last point. It was not enough."
Nadal refused to elaborate on the areas he needs to improve. He insisted in his post-match media conference that he was merely joking when he said he was getting slower.
"I've improved from the beginning of the season. I am not playing terrible like I was at the start of the season," the 29-year-old said.
"When I am losing, I am losing because the opponents beat me, not because I lose the match, as I did a lot of times at the beginning of the season. I know what I have to do and I'm going to work on it."
Fognini, the 32nd seed, becomes the first Italian in the last 16 at the US Open since Davide Sanguinetti in 2005. He will face Spain's Feliciano Lopez for a place in the quarter-finals.
The 28-year-old smashed 70 winners, made 57 unforced errors and saved 11-of-19 break points in his all-or-nothing assault.
By contrast, Nadal had a more modest 30 winners and dropped serve on nine occasions.
"It was an incredible match to come from two sets down against Rafa, who is one of the best players in the world," said Fognini. He has defeated Nadal three times this year though his earlier wins were on clay in Rio and Barcelona.
"After the first two sets, I said, 'Okay, just concentrate, keep trying and anything can happen.' The fifth set was difficult for both of us."
Nadal had raced into a routine two sets to love lead. However, the colourful, sometimes controversial Italian rallied with some superb shot-making, as the Arthur Ashe Stadium duel ticked past 1am.
In the nail-biting fifth set, breaks were exchanged repeatedly with Fognini surrendering a 40-0 lead at 4-3. The non-holding pattern continued as a seventh successive break, sealed with a backhand winner crosscourt, put Fognini back in the driving seat and serving for the match at 5-4.
This time, he did not falter, claiming victory when Nadal hit a backhand wide.
It was the 154th point Fognini had won. Nadal bagged 152.
"It was an incredible match, for sure," Fognini said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES
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