NEW YORK: Lucas Pouille outlasted 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in a five-set classic on Sunday to lead a trio of French men into the quarter-finals of the US Open.
Pouille, 22 and ranked 25th in the world, lived up to the promise of his quarter-final run at Wimbledon, emerging from a roller-coaster ride with a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (8/6) triumph over the Spanish superstar.
The defeat leaves Nadal – forced out of the French Open third round with a wrist injury that also saw him miss Wimbledon – without at least one Grand Slam quarter-final appearance for the first time since he was a teenaged tour newcomer in 2004.
Pouille came out firing, pushing Nadal back with an array of deep groundstrokes and angled shots.
Fifty-two winners from Nadal – whose attacking response saw him come out a winner on 35 of 48 forays to the net – weren’t enough.
The taut battle came down to the fifth-set tiebreaker and Nadal, trailing 3-6, showed his mettle by saving three match points – the third on Pouille’s serve.
Then he smacked a forehand into the net to give Pouille one more chance and the French player pounced on it with a blazing forehand that kissed the sideline.
“I wanted to take my chance to be very aggressive, try to play with my forehand, and so that’s what I did at the [last] match point,” Pouille said.
Nadal acknowledged that his sloppy forehand was “a big mistake”.
“But you are six-all in the tiebreak. I played the right point. I put myself in a position to have the winner and I had the mistake. That’s it. You cannot go crazy thinking about these kind of things.
“The problem is arriving at six-all in the fifth, I should be winning before,” said Nadal, who opened the fifth set with a break but couldn’t hold onto it, dropping his own serve in the eighth to make it 4-4 and set the stage for the tiebreaker.
“I fought until the end,” Nadal said. “There’s things I could do better, but I had the right attitude. I needed something more – it was not there today.” The four-hour, seven-minute contest entranced the crowd in Arthur Ashe stadium, where Pouille recalled admiring Nadal as a youngster.
Pouille, who has now won three successive five-setters to reach the last eight, wasn’t intimidated by the massive Ashe stage, even though he only practiced on it last year.
“I think it was the best atmosphere I played on a center court,” he said of the 22,000-seat cathedral of tennis.
“At the end it was full. Sometimes I couldn’t even hear myself when I was saying ‘Allez, allez, allez.’”
French trio through
Pouille next tackles 10th-seeded compatriot Gael Monfils, a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 winner over Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.
Ninth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also advanced, downing Jack Sock, the last American man left in the draw, 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (7/9), 6-2.
It’s the first time since 1947 that three French men have reached the quarter-finals of one Grand Slam.
The 23-year-old Sock, seeded 26th, hadn’t faced a break point in surprising 2014 champion Marin Cilic in the third round.
Against Tsonga he mustered only five aces and was broken six times by the 2008 Australian Open runner-up, who has reached at least the semi-finals of every Grand Slam except this one.
Tsonga next faces world number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic, who powered past 84th-ranked Kyle Edmund of Britain 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.
The remaining round of 16 matches were scheduled for Monday, when world number two Andy Murray will take on Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.
Third-seeded Stan Wawrinka, sixth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan, eighth-seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem and former champion Juan Martin del Potro will also battle for quarter-final berths.