For the first time in almost 20 years, none of the world's four biggest players in international tennis will feature in the quarter-finals of a grand slam.
With the curtain coming down on Serena Williams' career after her loss to Ajla Tomljanovic at the US Open, and both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer missing from the year's final slam, Rafael was the last of the four tennis legends still standing at Flushing Meadows on Monday (Tuesday AEST).
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That was, until local hope Frances Tiafoe stunned the 22-time grand slam champion in an emphatic 6-4 4-6 6-4 6-3 fourth round win.
The result leaves 2014 champion Marin Cilic - up against Carlos Alcaraz in the later session - as the only former slam winner left in the men's draw.
Incredibly, Nadal's loss also marks the first time since the US Open in 2003 that none of he, Federer, Djokovic or Williams would be featuring in the quarter-finals of a grand slam tournament.
The last time none of Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were in the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam: 2003 U.S. Open.
— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) September 5, 2022
— Clinton Donough (@cdonough) September 5, 2022
whew and that’s only because serena was injured too. because she was coming off a streak of 12 straight QFs I think before she had to miss the open that year
— pls (@dothedirtybird_) September 5, 2022
A frustrated Nadal - who was previously undefeated in grand slam matches this year - admitted after his fourth round defeat that his game was simply not up to scratch, and that Tiafoe was the "better" player.
Nadal only allowed two total break point opportunities from the first three sets, but he was unable to save either, leading to Tiafoe taking the first and third frames.
The 22-time grand slam champion was uncharacteristically shaky in the fourth, committing four double faults and more unforced errors (nine) than winners (seven).
While reporters questioned if it was the oppressive humidity, injuries, or even the distraction of the roof closing mid-match, Nadal said there was a much simpler explanation for his performance.
"Well, the difference is easy," he said. "I played a bad match and he played a good match. At the end that's it, no?
"I was not able to hold a high level of tennis for a long time. I was not quick enough on 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 anymore.
"My shots need to be better. In some way my understanding of the game and the quality of my shots were not good enough. They were poor, I think I have to say today, because I was not able to create that much on him.
"Well done for him. He was better than me."
Rafa Nadal eyeing some time away from tennis
With the last grand slam of the year now in the books for Nadal, he said he will take some time away to recuperate, but was non-committal about when he may return.
"I need to go back [home], I need to fix things, life," he said. "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."
Nadal went into the US Open short on matches after suffering an abdominal tear that forced him to withdraw from his Wimbledon semi-final against Nick Kyrgios.
He dropped sets to Rinky Hijikata and Fabio Fognini in the first two rounds but looked more like his usual self in a straight-sets victory over Richard Gasquet on Saturday.
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 to clinch the opener.
There were some boos for Nadal when he returned from an eight-and-a-half-minute break, which included having his wrists taped to try to counter the humidity, but he took his chance at the end of the second to level the match.
The Spaniard still did not look settled, though, and Tiafoe raced to his chair after breaking serve in the third set, taking it with one of the best games of the tournament, cracking two winners and an ace.
Nadal tried to inject some energy into his performance early in the fourth set and he moved 3-1 ahead with Tiafoe distracted by the roof shutting, but this was not the Nadal who has won four titles in New York and his opponent surged to the finish line.
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