Monday, September 05, 2016

2016 US OPEN: #Fedal Era Officially Ends As Pouille Nips Nadal In 5th Set TB R16 Win

Wow! In one of the best matches of the year, 22-year-old Frenchman Lucas Pouille heralded the final death knell for the "Big Four" era by eliminating 14-time major champion Rafael Nadal in the 4th round of the 2016 US Open in a thrilling 5-set, 4-hour affair. The score was 6-1 2-6 6-4 3-6 7-6(6). With 17-time major champion Roger Federer out for half the year rehabbing a knee injury neither Federer or Nadal reached a major final this year. In fact, Nadal has only reached 2 major quarterfinals in his last 10 major appearance dating back to 2014  Wimbledon. Federer reached (and lost) 3 major finals in the same time period. In contrast, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have each made the QF or better in 9 of the last 10 majors they competed in, with Djokivic's loss coming at the 2016 Wimbledon (to Sam Querrey in the 3rd Round) and Murray's here last year to Kevin Anderson (I saw that match in person!) in the 4th round. The two played against each other in the first two major finals of the year and then Murray won Wimbledon for the second time so it's becoming clear the Big Four era is now over and the era of Djokovic-Murray has begun, with the next generation battling to see if they can break through.

Pouille became the third French player to reach the final 8 of the 2016 US Open, reaching his career first major quarterfinal. He joins his countrymen Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the first time France has had 3 quarterfinalists in the major era (which is somewhat surprising considering they have had 4 separate Top 10 players in the last decade: Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet and Tsonga and Monfils).

Pouille's match against Nadal was an astonishing performance, especially since it was Pouille's 3rd consecutive 5-set match, and despite bludgeoning Nadal off the court in a smoking 6-1 opening set in about a half-hour and after losing the second set 2-6, he squeezed out the 3rd set 6-4. However, after losing the 4th set 6-3, Pouille fell behind 0-2, 1-3 and 2-4 in the final set until he finally came back to break at 4-all and both players held serve to reach the 5th set tiebreak (which should be mandatory in all slams!) Pouille played an awful first point but then won 4 consecutive points to go up 4-1, but Nadal fought back and despite going down 3-6, the Spaniard was able to level the match at 6-all when he made a horrofying forehand error into the next, giving Pouille his 4th match point (on Nadal's serve) and after a tense groundstroke battle Nadal was forced into an error and lost the match.

I was in the crowd of tens of thousands of people waiting for Nadal's match to end the the day session before the night session began. There were few cheers when Nadal lost, but even his fans could appreciate the high level of tennis played and the effort it took for Pouille to complete the stunning upset in his very first time playing on the renovated Arthur Ashe, tennis' biggest stage.

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