by Kevin Craig
Lucas Pouille won the match of the tournament at the US Open on Sunday as he defeated 14-time major champion Rafael Nadal in five sets, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(6), in an epic battle lasting longer than four hours.
“My first match on [Arthur Ashe Stadium]…yeah, I could not dream better than this,” said Pouille, who was able to win his third consecutive five-set match at the US Open.
With the win, the 22-year old from France reached the second major quarterfinal of his career and in a row after he reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon earlier this summer.
The first set was dominated by the 24th-seeded Frenchman as he gave Nadal few chances to work his way into the match. Thanks to a break in the Spaniard’s first service game, Pouille was able to relax a bit in the opening set as he felt minimal pressure on serve until the final game of the set.
After grabbing another break for a 5-1 lead, Pouille gave Nadal a look at his first break point of the match, but the 22-year old fought it off before closing out the set.
That late effort from Nadal gave him some momentum in the second set, as the roles were reversed from the first set. Nadal became the aggressor who was able to win the set with a double break advantage to level the match at one set all.
There was a point where Pouille had four break points to get back on serve in the set, but Nadal used his advantage in the experience department to will his way to a hold, eventually grabbing that second break to close out the set.
The third set opened up with a break for Pouille as he proved to Nadal and the tennis world that he wouldn’t back down after dropping the second set. At 2-0, Pouille missed out on a break point in an 18-point game and was unable to go up a double break, but kept his composure as he would only lose four points in his next three service games to close out the set and take a two-sets-to-one lead.
In the fourth, some fatigue began to be apparent in Pouille who had played five-set matches in his previous two rounds. After fighting off a break point at 1-2, the Frenchman would be broken in his next two service games with relative ease, allowing Nadal to even up the match and force a deciding fifth set.
When that deciding set began, Nadal once again was able to break, giving him three consecutive breaks of the Pouille serve. The nine-time French Open champion looked well on his way to the quarterfinals of the US Open as he lost just three points on serve in his first three service games of the set.
In that fourth service game, though, Pouille turned the tables of the match as he earned two break points out of nothing, capitalizing on the second one to get back on serve. In the very next game, the 22-year old saved a break point, and was eventually able to force one of the most dramatic and intense situations in tennis; a fifth set tiebreak.
After giving up a mini-break on the opening point, Pouille would rattle off four points in a row for a 4-1 lead, eventually extending the lead to 6-3. At that point, Pouille looked over to his box and reminded them and himself to stay calm. That’s exactly what he needed to do as Nadal would battle back to level the tiebreak at 6-6, but the Frenchman would not let this opportunity slip.
“At 6-3, I was like ‘Ok, you’re going to win this one. Then at 6-all, it was not the same,” said Pouille, receiving a laugh from the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd in his post-match on-court interview.
Up 7-6 in the tiebreak, Pouille battled out an epic baseline rally with Nadal that ended with the Frenchman ripping a forehand winner down the line to close out the match and earn the win.
“It’s just never over until the last point. I was a break down in the fifth. I came back…It’s never done until the last point is over,” said Pouille.
Pouille will now take on fellow Frenchman Gael Monfils, who took out Marcos Baghdatis in straight sets in the round of 16, in the quarterfinals of the US Open on Tuesday.