Two-time champion Rafael Nadal’s bid for US Open glory has been ended by Frenchman Lucas Pouille following an enthralling five-set encounter.
Pouille recovered from being a break down in the decider to record a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 victory in just over four hours on Arthur Ashe Stadium in perhaps the match of the tournament thus far.
While Nadal had eased through the opening rounds, Pouille entered the show court at Flushing Meadows on the back of consecutive five-set matches, and having taken just three games off Nadal the last time the pair met.
Speaking before the match, the 22-year-old Pouille said he was a very different player to the one who lost heavily to Nadal in Monte Carlo last year, and he went about demonstrating that early on, with two breaks in the first set handing him the opener 6-1.
However, when Nadal responded by bossing the second set 6-2, one would have thought that it was only a matter of time before the fourth seed put his foot down and eased to the finish line.
Pouille was having none of it though, and found more joy on the Nadal serve in the third set, with the former number one winning 68 percent of points on his first serve in the third in comparison to a dominant 85 percent in the second set.
This allowed Pouille to carve out three break points, and he converted one of those opportunities to edge the set 6-4.
But there was to be another turn in this see-saw battle.
After taking the fourth set, Nadal broke early in the decider to move two games out from a spot in the last eight. However, just when it looked like Pouille was down and out he broke back out of nowhere in the seventh game and went on to force a tiebreaker.
After the first three points of the breaker went against serve, Pouille held to go 3-1 up and then 4-1 up as the momentum turned in the Frenchman’s favour. At 6-5, Pouille had his third match point and the first on his serve, but he spurned the chance to finish Nadal.
He would not be made to pay, though, with an easy Nadal forehand into the net handing Pouille another opportunity, one he did not turn down.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 4, 2016
Pouille joins compatriots Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils – who Pouille will face next – in the quarter-finals, the first time three Frenchman have reached it to the last eight of any grand slam.
For Nadal, meanwhile, another early exit at a grand slam stands as an all too unforgiving reminder of the decline of his once imperious powers.
This is the 1st year since 2004 Rafael Nadal has not reached the quarterfinal at a Grand Slam in a calendar year. pic.twitter.com/j48TSJQxt4
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 4, 2016