But he showed tactical discipline to dismiss the 22-time Grand Slam champion with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Rafael Nadal on Monday. He advanced to his first US Open quarterfinal — and second major quarterfinal of his career — thanks to a masterclass in power management, a man taking chances when they come.
When Nadal was caught forcing a backhand error, he slammed his racket into his chair and put his hands over his head. Those in his toy box – including his father, who worked as a maintenance manager at JTC; his mother; And his favorite NBA player, Bradley Bell of the Wizards — jumped to their feet, arms in the air.
“It felt like the world stopped,” said Tiafoe, who received a shout-out from LeBron James on Twitter. “I couldn’t hear anything for a minute. Even shaking his hand, I don’t even know what I said to him. It was such a blur.”
Men’s tennis now has perhaps the widest Grand Slam draw since Roger Federer’s reign began in 2003.
If 33-year-old Marin Cilic beats 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz on Monday night, he will become the only quarterfinalist (US Open, 2014) and the only winner older than 28 years.
Tiafoe’s victory denied Nadal the chance to extend his lead over Novak Djokovic (21) and Federer (20) in Grand Slams. This year he became the first man to beat Nadal in a major and the Spaniard won the Australian Open and the French Open. (Nadal withdrew from Wimbledon before his semi-final against Nick Kyrgios due to an abdominal injury.)
In the year Nadal, who last competed in 2019 and won the US Open, arrives at Flushing Meadows having played two matches in the past 50 days. Even though he had been training hard before the competition, the scar on his stomach was limiting his movement, so he couldn’t serve with the same ferocity.
Nadal’s lack of preparation showed on Monday. He had nine double faults to nine aces, Tiafoe crushed 18 aces to four double faults.
Yet even in less-than-ideal conditions, the 36-year-old has beaten three opponents in this tournament, including two ATP Tour veterans.
Tiafoe, 24, has presented many physical challenges.
Tiafoe is one of the fastest players on tour and has devoted much of his time to recovery since the outbreak began. Physical improvement has seen him climb the rankings, reaching a career-high No. 24 last month (he currently sits at No. 26).
But opponents will have to possess more than Olympic fitness to defeat Nadal.
They must mentally manage the most relentless opponent in tennis. When Nadal performs below average, they must be brave enough to make a payment. And they should jump at opportunities when they are presented.
Tiafoe checked every box in meeting Nadal, not wasting an iota of energy on his usual celebrations or crowd participation. For 3 hours 34 minutes he was fully focused.
“I wasn’t able to hold tennis at a high level, I wasn’t quick in my movements, and he was able to take the ball too quickly,” Nadal said. “So I couldn’t push it. Tennis is often a space sport, isn’t it? If not, you must be very, very fast and very young. And I’m not in that moment.
After trading the first two sets, Tiafoe broke Nadal for a 4-3 lead in the third, then immediately ran to his chair, staring ahead and letting the crowd shower him with applause – one of his first performances for the crowd all day. .
He won with two shots down the line to give himself a two-point lead, then closed with an ace and a conservative couple of fist pumps.
“The biggest thing with things like that is when I play him, I’m broken pretty early in every set,” Tiafoe said. “If I can just hold serve, 1-all, 2-all, 3-all. Then you feel good, then you play. You are in the game.
In typical Nadal fashion, the Spaniard took a 3-1 lead in the fourth set as he tried to stifle Tiafon’s moves.
But in the next game, Nadal made two double faults and Tiafoe did not let the opportunity slip through his fingers. He broke Nadal, then came back from 15-40 down to level the match at 3-3.
After that, he had a three game streak.
“For a while there, I was like Jez. You see all these guys getting Rafa, Fed, Novak. Can I say I beat one of them? Today I was like, no, I’m going to do that,” Tiafoe said. “Now it’s about telling his kids, his grandkids, ‘Yeah, I beat Rafa.’ Hopefully I’ll never play him again. But I hope I end up winning.”
The win made Tiafone the second American to reach the quarterfinals of the US Open on Monday.
On the women’s side, eighth seed Jessica Pegula eased past two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-2 to reach her third quarter-final of the year.
Pegula, whose parents own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, cast doubt on the Tiafoe-Nadal matchup. Drama is not her style; In an era of women’s tennis characterized by constant buzz, Pegula was a constant.
Having won her first WTA title at the Washington City Open in 2019, Pegula, who was plagued by injuries relatively late in her career, finished the year ranked 76th in the world and ranked seventh this season. Teaming up with David Witt, former longtime coach of Venus Williams, and devoting more time to professional tennis: eating right, preparing well, and taking care of her body.
Her tennis flourished. In singles, she has reached three major quarterfinals this year for a 23-7 record at Grand Slams since the start of 2021.
Pegula will face her biggest challenge yet when she plays world No. 1 Iga Svitek on Wednesday. The match could be at the Arthur Ashe Stadium – frustration seems to be in the air this year.