NEW YORK: Frances Tiafoe produced one of the biggest upsets at the US Open after stunning 22-times Grand Slam champion Rafa Nadal in the fourth round on Monday while Carlos Alcaraz survived a five-set epic to reach a second successive quarter-final in a tie which finished at 02:23 a.m. Tuesday.

Four-time champion Nadal lost 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the last-16 and admitted that he was unsure about his return to competitive tennis after Tiafoe not only condemned him to his earliest US Open exit since 2016 but also handed the Spaniard his first Grand Slam loss this year after the he withdrew from his Wimbledon semi-final with an injury.

It was Nadal’s first tournament at Flushing Meadows since he lifted his fourth US Open title in 2019 and he arrived for the hardcourt major without much match practice and doubts hanging over his fitness.

“I need to go back,” Nadal said, crediting his 24-year-old opponent for being the better player on the day. “I need to fix things, life, then I don’t know when I [am] going to come back. I [am] going to try to be ready mentally. When I feel that I will be ready to compete again, I will be there.”

Nadal, who is expecting his first child with wife Mery Perello later this year, is scheduled to turn out for Team Europe during the Sept. 23-25 Laver Cup in London alongside his great rivals Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

“Now I have to go home, I have more important things than tennis to attend to,” he said. “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 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.

Nadal 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. Then his bid for a third Wimbledon crown was shattered by an abdominal injury.

His defeat came just a day after world number one and defending champion Daniil Medvedev was knocked out by Nick Kyrgios.

Tiafoe, 24, will face Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals after the Russian shrugged off a rain delay to breeze past Cameron Norrie in straight sets.

“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.

Alcaraz, last year’s quarter-finalist, remained on course for another memorable run at Flushing Meadows after squeezing past 2014 champion Cilic 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to set up a showdown against Jannik Sinner.

Italian 11th seed Sinner also needed five sets to hold off unseeded Belarusian Ilya Ivashka 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in a gruelling match and reach his third Grand Slam quarter-final this season.

Earlier, world number one Iga Swiatek recovered from a set and a break down to see off her 108th-ranked German opponent Jule Niemeier 2-6, 6-4, 6-0.

Swiatek will take on in-form Jessica Pegula for a place in the semi-finals.

Pegula became the second American woman to reach the last eight after brushing aside twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-2, before her compatriot Danielle Collins fell 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 to sixth seed Aryna Sabalenka.

The Belarusian will face 2016 runner-up Karolina Pliskova who downed three-time finalist Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2022

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