Frances Tiafoe ‘no dark horse anymore’ after stunning Nadal at US Open

Frances Tiafoe ‘no dark horse anymore’ after stunning Nadal at US Open
Frances Tiafoe reacts after defeating Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York, on 5 September 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Justin Lane)

The US Open men’s draw is wide open after No 2 seed Rafael Nadal joined No 1 seed Daniil Medvedev as fourth-round casualties at Flushing Meadows.

American Frances Tiafoe said his days of flying under the radar were over after his stunning fourth-round upset victory over No 2 seed Rafael Nadal at the US Open.

“That’s over, man. There’s no dark horse anymore,” American Tiafoe told reporters with a laugh after his 6-4 4-6 6-4 6-3 win over the 36-year-old Spaniard.

“But it’s all good. It helped me play well. I still feel no pressure. I still feel like I’m not supposed to do anything. I’m just here to play great tennis and enjoy it.”

Tiafoe (24) came into the match having failed to win a set, or even force a break point, against Nadal in their two previous meetings.

But with his confidence boosted by an improved serve and increased fitness, Tiafoe sees no reason that he cannot go all the way at Flushing Meadows.

“A couple years ago I would have played Rafa and been like, ‘oh, it’s cool to play him,’” he said. “But today when I got out there I looked at my team and I said, ‘let’s get a win today’.

“I’m here to win the US Open. I want to go all the way.”

Nadal’s exit left the men’s draw wide open after Russian No 1 seed Daniil Medvedev was ousted by Australian No 23 seed Nick Kyrgios  7-6(11) 3-6 6-3 6-2 on Sunday.

‘Losing it’

Tiafoe said he was “losing it” after LeBron James congratulated him on the win, the NBA star calling Tiafoe a “Young King” on Twitter.

“Bro, I was going crazy,” Tiafoe said. “That’s my guy. So, to see him post that, I was like, do I retweet it as soon as he sent it? I was like, you know what, I’m going to be cool and act like I didn’t see it and then retweet it three hours later.”

Born in Maryland to immigrant parents from Sierra Leone, Tiafoe took up the sport at a young age while his father worked as a custodian at a tennis centre in suburban Washington DC.

He saw his talent as a way to build a better life for his family and was overcome with emotion after pulling off the biggest win of his career in front of them on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Frances Tiafoe at the net with Rafael Nadal after their US Open epic on 5 September 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Justin Lane)

“To see them experience me beat Rafa Nadal… they’ve seen me have big wins, but to beat those Mount Rushmore guys, for them, I can’t imagine what was going through their heads. They’re going to remember today for the rest of their lives.”

‘No excuses’

Nadal said he would make no excuses after his shock loss, despite a serious abdominal injury that derailed his run-up to the year’s final major.

Tiafoe had not made the quarterfinal of a major since the 2019 Australian Open but had no issues ending the Spaniard’s path to a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam title as Nadal struggled with his serve and on the return. 

Nadal pulled out of Wimbledon with a serious abdominal injury this year and had barely played when he arrived at Flushing Meadows, but told reporters that Tiafoe was simply the better competitor.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Raducanu’s US Open title defence ends in first round, Osaka out while giant-killing qualifiers continue rampage

“We can make lamentations or we can complain now about a lot of things, but I don’t think that’s going to change any situation,” he told reporters.

Frances Tiafoe reacts to winning his fourth-round match against Rafael Nadal. (Photo: EPA-EFE / CJ Gunther)

Frances Tiafoe says he now wants to ‘go all the way’ at the US Open. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Justin Lane)

“We can’t find excuses. We need to be enough (of a) critic with myself. That’s the only way to improve or that’s the only way that I understand you are able to find solutions.”

Nadal won at the Australian Open and Roland-Garros this year, and reached the Indian Wells final, but his good times came to an abrupt end when he told reporters he could not carry on with his semifinal showdown with Nick Kyrgios at the All England Club. 

A straight-sets loss to Borna Ćorić in his Cincinnati opener gave little sign for optimism and he described the injury to reporters in New York as “dangerous” and “risky”.

Frances Tiafoe celebrates with in the crowd after defeating Rafael Nadal. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Justin Lane)

Making his first appearance at the New York hard-court major in three years, he dropped his opening set to first-round opponent wildcard Rinky Hijikata, an early clue that he was not operating at 100%.

“I have been practising well the week before, honestly. But then when the competition start, my level went down,” said Nadal.

“For some reason, I don’t know, mental issues in terms of a lot of things happened the last couple of months… But it doesn’t matter. At the end the only thing that happened is we went to the fourth round of the US Open and I faced a player that was better than me.

“And that’s why I am having a plane back home.”

The 36-year-old did concede, however, that his 24-year-old opponent had time on his side.

“Tennis is a sport of position a lot of times, no? If not, you need to be very, very quick and very young,” he said. “I am not in that moment anymore.”

Good Sinner

Italian Jannik Sinner rallied from 3-1 down in the fifth set to beat Ilya Ivashka 6-1 5-7 6-2 4-6 6-3 and reach the quarterfinals.

Sinner’s sublime drop-shot winner broke world No 73 Ivashka for a 4-3 lead in the decider and the Italian went on to seal the victory when the Belarusian’s forehand sailed long on match point.

Sinner, seeded 11th, said the crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium had helped get him across the finish line.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Under the eye of the Tiger, Serena Williams aces second-round test at US Open

“The atmosphere is always very great, especially when I’m down,” he said in an on-court interview.

“Thanks to you guys for keeping my head up because today I was struggling. I was not playing my best and in the fifth set I tried to dig deep.

“I’m very happy to be in the next round.”

The 21-year-old has now reached the quarterfinals of all four Grand Slam tournaments, becoming the youngest man to do so since Novak Djokovic in 2007-8. Reuters/DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.8% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.2% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.2% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.2%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options