On Monday, Frances Tiafoe did what no player has managed in 2022.
He beat Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam match.
The American electrified Arthur Ashe Stadium with a four-set win over the 22-time major champion, who was 22-0 at this year’s Slams and also unbeaten in his last 10 matches in New York.
Tiafoe’s biggest career victory has blown the men’s singles draw further open – it came less than 24 hours after Nick Kyrgios eliminated world No.1 and defending champion Daniil Medvedev – and sends him through to his first US Open quarterfinal.
Andrey Rublev finds himself between Tiafoe and the local favourite’s first ever Grand Slam semifinal.
“It was definitely one hell of a performance. I played really well today. I just came out there and I just believed I could do it,” the 24-year-old said.
“It helps I played him a couple times. Haven't played him in some years.
“I'm a different person now, different player. I went out there trying to get a dub, and that's what I did.”
KEEP GOING!!!!! #StriveForGreatness🚀— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 5, 2022
Entering this match, Tiafoe has only ever beaten one top five player – Stefanos Tsitsipas, twice – in Grand Slam play and had lost 13 of 15 career meetings with top-five opponents.
While Tsitsipas is an extremely talented foe, Nadal’s career CV is almost unmatched, and the Spaniard was seeking to continue his exceptional run at the majors, which already included titles at the Australian Open and Roland Garros in 2022.
Nadal had never dropped a set against Tiafoe, but the American had not dropped a set at Flushing Meadows this year.
Tiafoe entered this fourth-round clash brimming with confidence, feeling slimmer and fitter than ever, and determined to re-write a script he felt had, to this point, defined him.
“It's the mental capacity. Rafa is there every point. I've been known to have some dips in my game at times, where it's like you're watching, what's that? That was my thing, match intensity,” said Tiafoe, who from a break down in the fourth set won five straight games to triumph.
“Even when I got broken in the fourth… stay with him, stay in it. That's what I was able to do. Yeah, it was big.
“Once I actually woke up (this morning) I was like I just want to win a tennis match today. It's pretty relevant. Rafa is on the other side.
“The last three years I've been in the fourth round, I wanted to go a step further.”
It is almost four years ago now that Tiafoe appeared in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, at Australian Open 2019.
Until today he had never equalled that exciting breakout run, but he could feel himself getting closer.
The next time he reached the second week of a Slam, at US Open 2020, he was overwhelmed by Medvedev, winning just five games. He returned to the same stage at US Open 2021, that time pushing Felix Auger-Aliassime to four sets.
He also progressed to the last 16 at Wimbledon just two months ago, where David Goffin stopped him in a dramatic five-setter.
The time around he cleared the hurdle – in the most resounding way possible.
“You see all these young guys get Rafa, Fed, Novak. Am I ever going to be able to say I beat one of them? Today I was like, no, I'm going to do that,” said Tiafoe, who admitted his legs “were like cement” as the finish line approached in the fourth set.
“(After winning match point) I felt like the world stopped. I couldn't hear anything for a minute. Even shaking his hand, I don't even know what I said to him. It was such a blur.
“Like, I was already tearing (up). I could barely see him and my team. Everyone was up. It was just wild. My heart is going a thousand miles an hour. I was so excited. I was like, Let me sit down.
“I've never felt something like that in my life, honestly.”
Tiafoe, who recently peaked at world No.24, next faces in Rublev a player who is also seeking his first ever Grand Slam semifinal.
With the top two seeds gone, there is a growing sense that this US Open men’s singles title is anyone’s for the taking.
Tiafoe very much sees himself as one of those who could capture it.
“I still feel no pressure. I still feel like I'm not supposed to do anything. I'm just here to play great tennis and enjoy it. I'm having fun out there,” he said.
“I know what I can do, I know what I'm capable of doing these next couple matches.”