American Frances Tiafoe took the court on Monday afternoon with one thought on his mind: win the tennis match.
A seemingly fairly simple approach for a professional player, but with 22-time major champion Rafael Nadal standing on the other side of the net, this was no easy task.
“I’m definitely a different player from 2019, playing much better,” Tiafoe said prior to the match on Monday. “Now I believe I can beat him. I’m definitely going to come after him.”
And that is indeed what he did. Playing loose and without fear, Tiafoe used his whipping forehand to match Nadal from the baseline, and firing 18 aces, some of which came at crucial times in a back-and-forth fourth set, to pull off the 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.
In all, Tiafoe had 49 winners and sustained his level for the entirety of the 3 hour and 34 minute clash.
“At 4-3 [in the fourth set], when I went up 40-0, my legs were like cement,” he told the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd afterwards. “I just needed to get out of the game and then pray to god that I don’t have to serve for it. I was lucky enough to get out of that game. I came out not giving Rafa all the respect, and I came out to win a tennis match in front of you guys.”
After holding for 5-3 in that fourth set, a ripping cross-court forehand winner set up Tiafoe with a couple of match points. He made sure he would not have to serve out the match, and broke Nadal to wrap up the biggest victory of his young career.
“When I first came on the scene, I felt like a lot of people had a lot of expectations on me on how I would do,” Tiafoe reflected. “I wasn’t ready for it mentally. I wasn’t mature enough for it. These past couple of years, when the attention hasn’t been on me, I have been able to develop. I have a great team behind me. I am just putting my head down and I am happy with where I am in life in general. I am able to do me and do it my way and enjoy the game I love.”
Tiafoe is now into the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open for the first time in his career, and he will square off against ninth-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev, who notched a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win over Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie in the first match of the day on Tuesday.