Rafael Nadal has put his first grand slam defeat for more than a year down to a “bad match” as he was stunned by American Frances Tiafoe in the fourth round of the US Open.
Nadal was looking for his third slam title of the year after winning the Australian Open and French Open, but he was overpowered by Tiafoe in a 6-4 4-6 6-4 6-3 victory that blows the tournament wide open.
Having pulled out of Wimbledon injured earlier in 2022 and missing both the US Open and Wimbledon tournaments in 2021, this was Nadal’s first defeat at a slam since his loss to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the French Open last spring.
“The difference is easy. I played a bad match and he played a good match,” was Nadal’s blunt assessment of his performance on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I was not able to hold a high level of tennis for a long time. I was not quick enough in my movements. He was able to take the ball too many times very early, so I was not able to push him back.
“Tennis is a sport of position a lot of times. If not, you need to be very, very quick and very young. I am not in that moment any more. Well done for him. He was better than me.”
No American man has won a grand slam title since Andy Roddick at Flushing Meadows in 2003, by far their longest drought in tennis history.
Now Tiafoe, the 24-year-old son of immigrants from Sierra Leone who as a child slept in the office of a tennis centre in Maryland where his father was the caretaker, is right in the mix in a tournament that has lost first defending champion Daniil Medvedev and now Nadal.
Tiafoe, whose only previous slam quarter-final came in Australia three years ago, had not lost a set going into the match and he exploited some sluggishness and unexpected errors from Nadal.
The Spaniard went into the US Open short on matches after suffering an abdominal tear that forced him to withdraw from Wimbledon ahead of the semi-finals.
He dropped sets to Australia’s Rinky Hijikata and Fabio Fognini in the first two rounds in New York but looked more like his usual self in a straight-sets victory over Richard Gasquet on Saturday.
“Of course, this was not the ideal preparation for me,” Nadal said of his disrupted build-up.
“We can’t find excuses. I have been practising well the week before, honestly. But then when the competition started, my level went down. For some reason, I don’t know, mental issues in terms of a lot of things that happened the last couple of months, maybe.”
Nadal’s wife is expecting their first child back home in Mallorca and the 36-year-old is due to play next at the Laver Cup in London later this month. But that appears to be in question, with Nadal saying: “I need to go back.
“I need to fix things, life, then I don’t know when I’m going to come back. I’m going to try to be ready mentally. When I feel that I will be ready to compete again, I will be there.”