Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Nadal falters once too often

Published:Monday | September 5, 2016 | 9:00 AM

NEW YORK (AP):

Rafael Nadal kept making a stand, kept coming back, kept showing he would not depart quietly from this US Open. Facing a much younger, much-less-accomplished opponent, Nadal twice erased a set deficit. Then he staved off a trio of match points.

And then, more than four hours into the toughest test he's put his left wrist through since returning from injury, Nadal faltered. He missed a short forehand, pushing it into the net. Nadal knew what he'd done and covered his eyes with both hands. One point later, the match was over.

Nadal was upset in the US Open's fourth round by 24th-seeded Lucas Pouille of France 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (6) yesterday, prolonging the 14-time Grand Slam title winner's quarter-final drought at major tournaments.

"There were things I could do better. Had the right attitude. I (fought) right up to the last ball," said the No. 4-seeded Nadal, a two-time champion at Flushing Meadows. "But I need something else. I need something more that was not there today."

He breezed through his opening three matches at the hard-court tournament, dropping only 20 games. But Pouille, a 22-year-old with flashy strokes, presented a much greater challenge in the fourth round, pushing Nadal to the limit through entertaining, tense and intense exchanges.

This was Pouille's third career victory in a five-setter and all have come in his past three matches.

"Well, at 6-3, I was like, 'OK, you're going to win this one,'" Pouille said. "And then, at six-all, it was not the same."

Given their relative histories Pouille never had been to a Grand Slam quarter-final until Wimbledon this year Nadal might have been considered the favourite at that moment.

But he was the one who blinked at 6-6. Pouille played conservatively, hitting short shots and making sure they landed in. On one such seemingly easy ball to exploit, Nadal moved forward and whipped that big forehand of his, only to see his reply smack the net.

MISTAKE

"I played the right point. I put (myself) in a position to have the winner, and I had the mistake. That's it," the 30-year-old Nadal said. "You cannot go crazy thinking about these kind of things, no?"

That error made it 7-6 in the tiebreaker, Pouille's fourth match point, and he would not let this one slip away. On the 16th stroke of this exchange, Pouille delivered a forehand winner to a corner.

Pouille will face countryman Gael Monfils, a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 winner over 2006 Australian Open runner-up Marcos Baghdatis, who received a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct for using his cell-phone during a second-set changeover.

The other quarter-final on that side of the draw will feature J-Wilfred Tsonga against No. 1 Novak Djokovic or 84th-ranked Kyle Edmund of Britain.

Tsonga got there by eliminating the last US man in the field, No. 26 Jack Sock, 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-2.

In the women's quarter-finals, it'll be 2015 runner-up Roberta Vinci vs No. 2 Angelique Kerber or No. 14 Petra Kvitova, and two-time finalist Caroline Wozniacki vs. 48th-ranked Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.