Serena Williams left Friday.
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer never arrived.
Then on Monday, Rafael Nadal, by far the biggest remaining tennis name in the U.S. Open field, joined them on the list of non-participants.
Frances Tiafoe, a big-serving American who is seeded 22nd, took out Nadal in a tense third-round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, a potentially career-turning moment for a rising talent.
It will be the 24-year-old’s first U.S. Open quarterfinal.
Nadal, 36, last failed to reach a quarterfinal in a Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2017 and had not lost a match in a major this year (22 matches).
(He withdrew from the Wimbledon semifinals in July because of a torn abdominal muscle.)
The last time an American beat Nadal in a Grand Slam event? James Blake at the 2005 U.S. Open.
“I don’t even know what to say right now,” Tiafoe said in an on-court interview after the match. “I’m beyond happy . . . I can’t believe it.” He later said it was all a blur and that he could not remember what he said to Nadal.
Nadal referenced “not ideal preparation for me” in the wake of his injury, but he said he had practiced well before the U.S. Open. Then he never quite reached his peak level once the competition began.
“I faced a player that was better than me, and that is why I am having a plane back home,” he said. “No excuses at all. I’m happy to recognize that he was much better than me today.”
Tiafoe did not disagree. “It was definitely one hell of a performance,” he said. “I played really well.”
He said beating Nadal is something he can tell his children and grandchildren about.
Tiafoe broke Nadal, the No. 2 seed, in the first set to go up 4-3 and went on to win it.
Nadal won the second set by breaking Tiafoe in the 10th and final game, which ended with a Tiafoe double fault.
But Tiafoe stormed back in the third, displaying his power serving, improved fitness and excellent all-around game.
When he broke Nadal to go up 4-3 en route to winning the set, he sprinted to his sideline chair out of excitement.
The capacity crowd celebrated the play of both Nadal, an all-time great with 22 major tournament victories, and Tiafoe, the lone American man left in the field.
Nadal broke Tiafoe to go up 3-1 in the fourth set in a game in which Tiafoe clearly was distracted by being forced to serve as the roof was being closed with rain coming in.
Tiafoe broke him right back and then broke him again to go up 4-3.
Tiafoe broke Nadal yet again in the ninth game to close out the match and promptly burst into tears of joy and relief on the court. He will face No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals.
Tiafoe is the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone and grew up in part at a tennis training center in Maryland where his father worked on the maintenance staff, living on site much of the time.
His parents and twin brother were there to watch on Monday. “They’re going to remember today for the rest of their lives,” Tiafoe said.
Nadal said he simply was not quick enough in his movements and was not able to put enough pressure on Tiafoe with deep balls.
“[Explaining] the difference is easy,” Nadal said. “I played a bad match and he played a good match. At the end, that’s it, no?”
Tiafoe said on ESPN after the match, “I know if I play at a high level, I can beat anyone in the world.” Then he added, “I’m here to win the U.S. Open.”