22 year old Lucas Pouille scored the biggest win of his professional tennis career as the Frenchman seized the moment with a stunning five-set upset over 14-times Grand Slam Singles Winner Rafa Nadal, winning a dramatic, climactic tie-breaker 8-6 to reach the US Open quarter-finals.
And while the publicists for the US Open would have a field day just with that headline, the number one player in the world, Novak Djokovic cruised through his fourth round clash with South African-born British player Kyle Edmund in straight sets 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.
Djokovic’s right elbow was treated by a trainer in the third set his victory over Edmund on Sunday night that put the defending champion in the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the 10th consecutive year.
Djokovic was finally forced to play a full match after competing for a total of 31 minutes over the preceding five days because of injuries to his opponents in the second and third rounds.
“Obviously I haven’t played too much tennis. So I’m really glad to be back,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview. “I thought I came out, really, from the blocks very good, playing with a high intensity.”
Djokovic also had his right arm worked on during his first-round victory on Day 1 of the tournament, but he got a chance to let that arm sit idle for a bit, benefiting from a walkover in the second round, then a retirement after only six games in the third.
Until the issues resurfaced in the third set against Edmund, Djokovic appeared rather rested and ready.
After about 75 minutes on Sunday, Djokovic was ahead two sets and a break. He produced various bits of magic along the way: a jumping, head-fake drop shot at an impossible angle; a stretching angled cross-court backhand pass that drew an errant volley from Edmund; a body-contorting defense-to-offense forehand that drew a roar from spectators.
“I made Kyle work for each point,” said Djokovic, whose quarterfinal opponent is No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the man he beat in the 2008 Australian Open final for the first of his 12 major championships. “I wanted to move him around the court.”
Djokovic even cracked a smile after one effortless exchange in which he ran Edmund this way and that before dropping a backhand winner right near the baseline early in the third set.
And yet it was in that same game that Edmund began his mini-run. At the ensuing changeover, Djokovic was visited by the trainer, who pressed a thumb just above the back of the player’s right elbow, while manipulating that joint in various ways. Edmund broke for a second consecutive time to suddenly lead 3-2 as Djokovic’s coach, Boris Becker, looked on from the stands, grim-faced.
That, though, was that. Djokovic broke back to 3-all, and after a trade of service holds, he took the last two games. He has reached at least the quarterfinals at 29 of the past 30 Grand Slam tournaments … the exception was his loss in the third round of Wimbledon in June against Sam Querrey.
And then there was the hotly-contested blistering match with Nadal and the young upstart from France. Pouille. whose poise was not lost on anyone who was watching his epic match against Nadal, took charge early and led two sets to one, then rebounded after sagging in the fourth set to win 6-1 2-6 6-4 3-6 7-6 (8-6) in a four hour, seven minute struggle against the fourth seed.
Playing in his third consecutive five-set match, 24th seed Pouille, still looking for his first ATP Tour Title, showed that his quarter-final advance earlier this season at Wimbledon was no fluke.
Pouille will play 10th-seeded compatriot Gael Monfils in the last eight.
Monfils advanced with a 6-3 6-2 6-3 victory winner against unseeded Marcos Baghdatis, and has yet to lose a set in the tournament.
Nadal, forced out of the French Open third round by a wrist injury that also kept him out of Wimbledon, hasn’t reached a major quarter-final since Roland Garros last year.
Down 3-6 in the fifth-set tiebreaker Nadal saved three match points … the third on Pouille’s serve.
But the Spaniard’s error from the baseline gave Pouille another chance and he seized it with a forehand winner.
“At 6-3, I was thinking OK, you’re going to win this one. At six-all it was not the same,” said Pouille.
After breaking Pouille in the opening game of the fifth Nadal appeared to have things in hand, not facing a break point until the eighth game, when he may have been rattled by a time violation before serving at 30-all.
He surrendered the next point, and after saving one break point Pouille gave himself another with a sharp volley, and leveled the set at 4-4 when Nadal sailed a forehand well out.
Nadal was unable to convert a break point in the next game and they carried on to the tiebreaker.
Pouille came out firing and ripped through the first set in 28 minutes.
Nadal responded in kind in the second, breaking Pouille in the second game en route to a 3-0 lead, holding off four break points in the fifth game and breaking again to level the match at a set apiece.
It was Pouille who gained a break in the first game of the third and made it stand up.
In the fourth, Nadal broke Pouille for a 4-2 lead, launching an exchange of three straight breaks that left the Spaniard to serve it out and force the decider.