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Nadal unable to handle adversity, falls in upset

New York – Rafael Nadal kept making a stand, kept coming back, kept showing he would not depart quietly from this U.S. 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 4 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 U.S. Open’s fourth round by 24th-seeded Lucas Pouille of France 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (6) on Sunday, prolonging the 14-time Grand Slam title winner’s quarterfinal drought at major tournaments.

Lucas Pouille celebrates after stunning Rafael Nadal (inset), 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (6), in the fourth round of the US Open men’s singles in New York. (AP / Manila Bulletin)

Lucas Pouille celebrates after stunning Rafael Nadal (inset), 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (6), in the fourth round of the US Open men’s singles in New York.
(AP / Manila Bulletin)

“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.

“Every point was great,” Pouille said.

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

Since losing in last year’s French Open quarterfinals, Nadal has failed to make it beyond the fourth round at a major. And after winning at least one Grand Slam title each year for a decade, he’s now gone two full seasons without one.

In 2016, he lost in the first round of the Australian Open. Then he pulled out of the French Open before his third-round match because of a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist, an injury that forced him to withdraw from Wimbledon altogether and miss about 2 1/2 months in all.

After finally pulling even with Pouille by capturing the fourth set, Nadal broke to open the fifth, then went ahead 4-2. But Pouille broke to 4-all.

“Sometimes,” Pouille said of the raucous crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium, “I couldn’t even hear myself when I was saying, ‘Allez! Allez! Allez!’”

Pouille was joined in the quarterfinals by a pair of countrymen, No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 10 Gael Monfils, giving France three men’s quarterfinalists at the American Grand Slam tournament for the first time in 89 years.

Pouille will face 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 cellphone during a second-set changeover.