The Spanish tennis legend took on American Frances Tiafoe and lost in four sets, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Tifoe fought a grueling three hours and 30 minutes for the W and, at 24 years old, became the youngest American to get this far in the US Open since Andy Roddick became a finalist in 2006.
He even acknowledged the heroic feat once the winner of the round of 16 match was crowned.
“It was definitely one hell of a performance. I played really well today. Yeah, I guess, I mean, I just came out there, and I just believed I could do it. It helps I played him a couple times,” he said before speaking about what the win means to his parents, who migrated to Maryland amid Sierra Leone’s civil war in the 1990s.
He, his father, and his twin brother slept on the floor of a Maryland tennis center where his father worked as a janitor. He’d use kids’ discarded rackets and hit tennis balls against a wall to learn his skills before the tennis center eventually trained him for free.
“I just had a big passion for the game. Not even mainly for me, but to do it for them. To see them experience me beat Rafa Nadal, they’ve seen me have big wins, but to beat those Mount Rushmore guys, for them, I can’t imagine what was going through their heads. Yeah, I mean, they’re going to remember today for the rest of their lives.”
The contest ends a streak for Nadal as it marks his first grand slam loss this year and moves his record to 22-1, despite winning the Australian Open and French Open.
After the match, he spoke plainly on how the young Maryland native beat him and noted the mistakes that cost him the victory.
“The difference is easy. I played a bad match and he played a good match. At the end, that’s it, no?” Nadal said afterward. “But I don’t think I pushed him enough to create him the doubts that I need to create,” he said. “Of course, he did the things well. If not, he will not win, without a doubt. Congrats to him.”
Even LeBron James recognized the growing talent, tweeting, “CONGRATS Young King!!! You earned it!.”
Next up, Tiafoe will take on Russia’s Andrey Rublev in a quarterfinal on Wednesday, with the men’s singles final scheduled for Sunday.