Rafael Nadal suffered a tough fourth-round exit at the US Open on Monday against American Frances Tiafoe. The 22-time major champion was clear that there are no excuses. Tiafoe was simply the better player on the day.
“We can make lamentations or we can complain now about a lot of things, but I don’t think that [is] going to change any situation,” Nadal said. “We can think, if I [didn’t] get injured, maybe I win Wimbledon. Maybe I win [other] things [in] the past. Or maybe I lost [other] things because I was not able to create this interior power after all that injuries.
“That’s part of my career. A lot of times went the proper way; sometimes completely unexpected like Australia, like Roland Garros.
Of course, this was not the ideal preparation for me. But in other cases went the right way, even with not the perfect preparation. We can’t find excuses. We need to be enough critical with myself. That’s the only way to improve or that’s the only way that I understand you are able to find solutions.”
Tiafoe played a clean, aggressive match in which he took the action to Nadal. The American hit 49 winners compared to just 28 unforced errors to reach his first quarter-final at Flushing Meadows. Nadal was unable to find a solution inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“The difference is easy: I played a bad match and he played a good match. At the end that’s it,” Nadal said. “I was not able to hold a high level of tennis for a long time. I was not enough quick 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 needed to be better. In some way my understanding of the game and the quality of my shots were not good enough, were poor, I think I have to say today, because I was not able to create that much [against] him.”
In the second round, Nadal fell behind a set and 2-4 against Fabio Fognini. The Italian had defeated the lefty in New York before, but the four-time champion found a way through. Nadal was adamant he was playing better in practice than he had through two matches, which came to fruition in the third round against former World No. 7 Richard Gasquet.
It was not enough against Tiafoe, who earned his first win against Nadal.
“I have been practising well the week before, honestly. But then when the competition started, my level went down. That’s the truth. For some reason, I don’t know, mental issues in terms of a lot of things happened the last couple of months,” Nadal said. “But [that] doesn’t matter. At the end the only thing that happened is we went to the fourth round of the US Open and I faced a player that was better than me. And that’s why I am having a plane back home.”
Nadal explained that Tiafoe is playing “more solid than before” and that the American served well. The Spaniard added he did not do enough to “create doubts” in the home favorite’s mind.
“All the credit to him, without a doubt. That’s the truth. He did a lot of things well. But at the end when you finish a match, of course it’s important to recognise all the good things that the opponent is doing or the opponent did. Yes, without a doubt,” Nadal said. “But at the end of the day I need to analyse myself more than the opponent. I finished the match 15 minutes ago. Difficult for me to analyse yet.”
It was still an impressive Grand Slam season for Nadal, who won the Australian Open and Roland Garros for the first time. The lefty made the semi-finals at Wimbledon before withdrawing due to injury.
With top seed Daniil Medvedev upset by Nick Kyrgios on Sunday, Nadal had another opportunity in New York. But as the Spaniard said, he was unable to convert his opportunities.
“I had my chances. I had that break, then I had again a 15/40. I had a Love-30 in the first set, second serve, I missed the return.
There have been a lot of moments that, if you are able to be ready to catch that point, [the] situation can change,” Nadal said. “[That] can make a big difference. That’s all about confidence. It’s all about [playing] better because at the end this sport, it’s about [when you are given] the opportunities, [taking] the opportunities, and trying to save when the opponent is doing well.
“I was not able to do anything, any of these things this afternoon. So he was able to do it. He played with the right determination. Congrats to him. Wish him all the very best.”