NEW YORK - Rafael Nadal fell to his earliest US Open loss in six years on Monday when he was knocked out by Frances Tiafoe while Iga Swiatek became the first Polish woman to reach the quarter-finals.
Four-time US Open champion Nadal, bidding for a 23rd Grand Slam title, lost 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the last-16 to 26th-ranked Tiafoe.
The American’s free-swinging performance conjured up 18 aces and 49 winners past a sluggish Nadal.
For Australian and French Open champion Nadal, it was a first Grand Slam loss of 2022 after an abdominal strain forced him to forfeit his Wimbledon semi-final.
His defeat came just a day after world No.1 and defending champion Daniil Medvedev was knocked out also in the fourth round by Nick Kyrgios.
“I wasn’t able to push him back. Tennis is a sport of positions a lot of the time,” said 36-year-old Nadal.
“You need to be very quick and very young. I am not in that moment anymore.” Nadal added: “I was not able to cause great damage. He was better than me.”
Tiafoe, 24, will face Andrey Rublev, who he defeated over five sets in the third round in 2021, for a place in the semi-finals.
“I don’t know what to say, I’m so happy. He’s one of the greatest of all time and I played unbelievable tennis today,” said Tiafoe who had only previously reached one Slam quarter-final in Australia in 2019.
“Something special happened today. Honestly when I first came on the scene I wasn’t ready for it mentally and mature enough.
“I’ve been able to develop and I have great team around me. With you guys, it’s been great.”
Seventh seed Rublev shrugged off a rain delay to breeze past Cameron Norrie and reach the quarter-finals for the third time with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win.
At his post-match press conference, Nadal admitted that he was not sure when he would return to action.
“I need to go back. I need to fix things. I don’t know when I going to come back,” he said.
“I'm going to try to be ready mentally. When I feel that I will be ready to compete again, I will be there.”
Nadal has endured a rollercoaster year. His two Slam titles have taken him one clear of Novak Djokovic but his physical frailties have also returned to haunt him.
Besides the abdominal strain, he also suffered a stress fracture of the ribs in March before requiring daily pain-killing injections in his left foot to see him through to a 14th French Open title in June.
Nadal is due to become a father for the first time in the coming weeks, a factor which will factor heavily into his future on-court plans.
“Decisions will be made based on how everything goes in my personal life, which comes before my professional life.
“It’s been a bit difficult for a few months but I want to finish the year with something very important that is my first child.”
Nadal is scheduled to return to action at the Laver Cup in London from Sept 23. He has already qualified for the ATP Tour Finals in Turin to be staged in November.
Despite his doubts over his future, Nadal told Spanish media that he will not rule out playing again this year.
“I will do a mini pre-season to finish the year in Europe with good feelings and that is what we are going to try. There is a tournament ahead if everything else goes well,” he said. AFP