Rafael Nadal is out of the US open after suffering a defeat to young Frenchman Lucas Pouille in a five set thriller on Arthur Ashe.
The 22-year-old came through 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(6) to set up a quarter final clash with his countryman Gael Monfils who defeated Marcos Baghdatis in straight sets earlier in the day.
Pouille came out all guns blazing, showing off his variety of skills in a 6-1 opening set that took less than half an hour. Nadal rallied back in the second, taking advantage o the low serving percentage of his opponent to break twice for to level the match. The Spaniard then took a long bathroom break, a decision that raised eyebrows given he had the momentum going into the third. It proved to be costly as Pouille mentally recovered and started the third set just like the first. Nadal went down an early break and could not recover as the world #24 edge two sets to one up.
Nadal is never one to throw in the towel however, and once again he clawed his way back onto level terms by taking a gruelling fourth set. It looked to be going the way of the fourth seed after he edged ahead in the decider. Pouille, showing no signs of tiredness after previous five set wins, managed to break back and send the decider into a tiebreaker.
As the match approached four hours, Nadal’s early mini break was countered by Pouille, who hit more stunning winners to bring up three match points. The Spaniard defiantly saved all three, but Pouille held his nerve, and on the fourth time of asking the Frenchman sealed his first US Open quarter final place in an epic encounter.
Whilst this is not the Nadal of old, this ranks as the Frenchman’s greatest ever career victory. He has now made the last eight in back to back majors and has further proved himself as a player to look out for in the future. Nadal on the other hand is still in search of a first major since 2014, but he may still be encouraged by his performances this week as he recovers from injury.
Pouille’s win capped off a great day for the French as Monfils and Jo Wilfried Tsonga were also able to record victories. Tsonga set up a quarter final match with world #1 Novak Djokovic by defeating Jack Sock in four sets 6-3 6-3 6-7 6-2.
However, the day belonged to Pouille. He is enjoying his best season yet and looks certain to become a top ten player at some point in his career. There will be a question of fatigue when he steps on to court against Monfils on Tuesday, but this could possibly be a major breakthrough for the 22-year-old.
He has vastly improved this year alone. Pouille has always been talented, hence why he was touted at a young age to become a top player, but his career rise has come slower than many of his age group. This win now seals his place in the top 20, and one more victory will make him climb to the top 15. He is arguably the most improved player on tour, and people are now beginning to see what the fuss is about.
He is good off both wings, solid at the net and has improved mental and fighting ability. It is hard to predict how far Pouille can go. There is still work to do on the serve, and he can often be inconsistent during matches. Despite that he is still climbing the rankings and producing big results. In a few years time, it is not hard to imagine the Frenchman competing for major titles, but first he must face Monfils.