Frances Tiafoe picked a great day to play some of his best tennis. The 24-year-old American, seeded 22nd, topped No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to advance to his second career Grand Slam quarterfinal. He also made the quarterfinals at the 2019 Australian Open.
After splitting the first two sets, Tiafoe took control of the third set by breaking Nadal in the seventh game with a perfect backhand winner. He sprinted to his seat as the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd came to life. He then was able to hold serve twice with relative ease.
In the fourth set, Nadal went up a break early, but Tiafoe immediately answered with a break of his own, the first of five straight games won by the American. After Nadal’s final shot went into the net, Tiafoe tossed his racket aside and put his hands on his head, quickly overcome with emotion. It’s arguably the biggest win of his career, and his first over Nadal in three tries.
Serving was a major key in the upset:
- Tiafoe produced 18 aces compared to just nine for Nadal.
- Nadal had an uncharacteristic nine double faults compared to Tiafoe’s four.
- Nadal’s serving troubles cost him dearly: In addition to the double faults, he won just 56 percent of his second-serve points.
Furthermore, Tiafoe’s defense was strong and his ground strokes were crisp, as he produced 49 winners compared to Nadal’s 33, and Tiafoe converted five of his eight break point opportunities. Tiafoe also came to the net well, winning 17 points at the net using a bevy of deft volleys and drop shots.
It’s a shocking loss for Nadal, who had made at least the quarterfinal of each of the last 16 majors he played in going all the way back to the 2017 US Open. He also had won his last 22 Grand Slam matches.
Tiafoe will face No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev. They have split their two meetings, with Rublev winning the most recent one, at the Indian Wells Masters in March.