The Spaniard’s 22-match winning streak at grand slam tournaments came to an end at the hands of the American, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, denying Nadal the chance of a record-extending 23rd grand slam title.
The 36-year-old had an extended stint on the sidelines after withdrawing from his Wimbledon semi final against Nick Kyrgios with an abdominal issue. His wife, Mery Perello, is expecting their first child later this year and was recently hospitalised over concerns with the pregnancy.
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Nadal responded to reports about that health scare in an earlier press conference during the US Open, saying “my wife is fine”.
“I need to fix things, life, then I don’t know when I’m going to come back,” Nadal said following his loss to Tiafoe.
“I going to try to be ready mentally. When I feel that I will be ready to compete again, I will be there.”
He added that his injury-interrupted preparation to the US Open had made it difficult for him to be at his best.
“Of course, this was not the ideal preparation for me. But in other cases it went the right way, even with not the perfect preparation, no?” Nadal said.
“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 has previously said he’ll play the Laver Cup at the end of September, a commitment that now seems in doubt.
“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.”
While Nadal will be straight on a plane home following his elimination, Tiafoe, 24, is in the hunt for his first grand slam win after reaching the second major quarter final of his career.
He is the youngest American man to get that far at the US Open since Andy Roddick in 2006, but this was not a case of a one-sided crowd backing one of its own. Nadal is about as popular as it gets in tennis and heard plenty of support in Arthur Ashe Stadium as the volume raised after the retractable roof was shut in the fourth set.
“I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m beyond happy. I can’t believe it,” said Tiafoe, who faces No.9 seed Andrey Rublev next. “He’s one of the greatest of all time. I played unbelievable tennis today, but I don’t even know what happened.”
Here’s what happened: Tiafoe served better than No.2 seed Nadal. More surprisingly, he returned better, too. And he kept his cool, remained in the moment and never let the stakes or the opponent get to him. Nadal had won both of their previous matches, and every set they played, too.
“Well done for him,” Nadal said. “He was better than me.”
This surprise came a day after one of Tiafoe’s pals, Nick Kyrgios, eliminated No.1 seed and defending champion Daniil Medvedev.
Nadal won the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June. Then he made it to the semi finals at Wimbledon in July before withdrawing from that tournament because of the torn abdominal muscle; that does not go into the books as a loss, because he pulled out before the match.
The 36-year-old from Spain competed only once in the 1 1/2 months between leaving the All England Club and arriving in New York while recovering from that injury. His play has not been up to his usual standards at the US Open, which he has won four times, particularly his serve.
Nadal tweaked his service motion, tossing the ball lower than he normally does so as not to put as much strain on his midsection while reaching with his racquet. There were plenty of signs Monday that his serve is just not in tip-top shape: nine double-faults, a first-serve percentage hovering around 50 per cent, five breaks by Tiafoe.
The next-to-last break came for a 4-3 edge in the fourth set, when Nadal put a backhand into the net, and Tiafoe skipped backward toward the sideline for the ensuing changeover, his fist raised. Fifteen minutes later, Tiafoe broke again, and it was over.
When one last backhand by Nadal found the net, Tiafoe put his hands on his head. When he sat in his sideline chair, he buried his face in a towel.
There were signs of trouble for Nadal earlier in the tournament. He lost the first set of his first-round match. Did the same in the second round, when he also accidentally cut the bridge of his nose and made himself dizzy when the edge of his racket frame bounced off the court and caught him in the face on a backhand follow-through.
— Additional reporting by Brett Graham
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