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The son of two war refugees puts Rafa Nadal out of action

BarcelonaAfter winning 22 Grand Slam tournament matches this year, Rafa Nadal has lost for the first time. The player from Manacor has fallen in the round of 16 of the US Open against the American Frances Tiafoe, who at 24 is on his way to the top 20 positions of the ATP ranking for the first time. Few people expected this result, after seeing Nadal’s high level of play in the previous tie, when he took out Frenchman Richard Gasquet in three sets. But Tiafoe has decided to become the great hero that American tennis needs, with a devastating first serve. Tiafeo won in four sets (6-4, 6-6, 6-4 and 6-3). “I still don’t know what happened,” said Tiafoe as Nadal left center court with a face of few friends. “I played very well, but to be able to defeat someone like Rafa on center court is a dream,” he admitted.

Nadal, this year’s Australian and Roland Garros champion, did not have a single Grand Slam match this year as he withdrew due to injury just before the Wimbledon semi-finals, where he won every match. In total, he already had 22 consecutive victories, a number never achieved before. But Tiafoe has avoided emulating the only two players to ever complete a season without losing a match in the four major tournaments, Australian Rod Laver in 1969 (26 wins) and American Jimmy Connors in 1974 (20 wins ). Nadal was looking to surpass Laver’s tally and win three major tournaments this year, taking his total of Grand Slams won to 23. But he ran into the forceful game of a Tiafoe who showed a great will to succeed when Nadal won the second set. In the fourth, the Manacor player seemed to impose his game again, but Tiafoe stopped Nadal’s reaction with a display of play. Without Rafa Nadal and without the Russian Daniil Medvedev, champion a year ago and eliminated by the Australian Kyrgios in the previous qualifier, the men’s team is left without a clear favourite. One of those he dreams of is the young Murcian Carlos Álcaraz or Casper Ruud, from Norway.

The match, marked by high humidity, started badly for Nadal, who with 3-3 made many mistakes in his service. It was the third time in this tournament that Nadal lost the first set. There didn’t seem to be anything serious about a match-fixing specialist. But before the second set, the Spaniard spent 10 minutes in the dressing room due to wrist problems, more time than usual. Despite everything, he won the second set by taking advantage of a mistake by a Tiafoe who faced a complicated scenario: playing on the biggest tennis court on the planet against an opponent who has won the tournament there four times. But Tiafoe’s pulse has not wavered, with a lethal first serve and a very aggressive game that has left Nadal unanswered, who in the fourth set wasted a 3-1 advantage.

Tiafeo, the son of two refugees who now touches the sky

For Tiafoe, it is the most important triumph of his career. An emotional success, as it hides a story of overcoming. Tiafoe’s parents are war refugees who left Sierra Leone in the 1990s, when the African state was in the grip of a vicious conflict where diamond mining companies and Western governments armed militias that committed crimes. The first to leave was the father, Constant, and when he could pay, the mother, Alphina, came. She, a nurse. And he, mason. And one of the projects he worked on was that of the JTCC, an exclusive sports club in Washington DC. Constant got a job as a night watchman at the JTCC when the work was finished, receiving a small apartment where he could live with his family when he was guarding the facilities. This is how his son was able to pick up a racket for the first time, who endured taunts from club members when they saw a young African-American in cheap clothes returning balls. They were not easy years, but the coach of the club Misha Kouznetsov understood that the boy had talent. And he began to train him, looking for sponsors and scholarships, as he began a path that, for now, has taken him to the quarter-finals of the US Open.

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