Rafael Nadal vs. Frances Tiafoe

Can we call this a moment of truth for Tiafoe? He’s the last American man standing. He has reached his third straight round of 16 at the US Open, but has never made the quarters. He has steadily improved and risen into the Top 30, but he doesn’t have a win against an opponent like this, in a place like this. At the 2019 Australian Open, Nadal stopped Tiafoe’s only run to a major quarterfinal in three quick sets. But Tiafoe claims that day, and that version of himself, is very much in the past.

“I'm definitely a different player from 2019, playing much better,” Tiafoe said. “I’m not going to have that first time playing him, excited to play. Now I believe I can beat him.”

“I’m definitely going to come after him…I’m just going to have to be really aggressive and try to make him play to me, not me play to him.”

As for Rafa, he agrees that Tiafoe has improved, and that he’ll need to be ready for whatever energy the American and the crowd bring on Labor Day afternoon.

“He’s a player who plays with a lot of passion, a lot of energy,” Nadal says. “He’s very quick. He can play very aggressive. I mean, he’s a player that I not going to win if I am not playing well.”

“In some ways a challenge for me. I enjoy that because I need to be ready for it. I need to increase the amount of energy.”

This will be Nadal’s first day-session match. That might require an adjustment, but I’d say it’s also to his advantage. Tiafoe would probably have more to work with, crowed-noise-wise, at night.

As for the match itself, starting out, Rafa likely won’t feel that he has to do anything different to win. That onus will be on Tiafoe, who will need to be as good as his word and keep a full-court press on the whole way. It should be fun to see if, and how, Nadal fends him off. Winner: Nadal

Nadal has won all five prior sets he's played against Tiafoe, though they haven't clashed since 2019.

Nadal has won all five prior sets he's played against Tiafoe, though they haven't clashed since 2019.


Aryna Sabalenka vs. Danielle Collins

These two have been here before. Sabalenka and Collins have twice played at the Open, and twice Sabalenka has come away a winner. The first time, in 2018, it was close: 6-4 in the third set. The second time, in 2021, it was routine: 6-3, 6-3.

Collins, like Tiafoe, can plausibly claim to be a better player now than she was then. She has been to a major final, in Melbourne, and she has shredded the ball in her three straight-set wins in New York so far, one of which was over Naomi Osaka. But Sabalenka hasn’t been too shabby herself; she survived a scare against Kaia Kanepi, and recorded an uncharacteristically efficient win in her last round.

All of which makes this match exceedingly difficult to predict. Which of these women will be on her game, and which will be off? The only thing we know is that they’ll throw everything they have at each other, with each swing they take. Winner: Collins


Jessica Pegula vs. Petra Kvitova

Power vs. consistency: That’s the crux of this matchup. Kvitova will try to hit the ball past Pegula; Pegula will try to get it back in the court more times than Kvitova. Both say they’re looking forward to the dynamic.

“I’m excited,” Pegula says. “It will be a fun match.”

“Facing Jessica, I will face Jessica and the crowd, for sure,” Kvitova says. “But on the other hand, I’m really looking forward. I played her a few times, and it was always great match. It will be [a] nice matchup, for sure, especially here with the crowd.”

Kvitova is 2-0 against Pegula, which means it will be up to the American to do something different and find a solution.

“Petra is so hard to play, I feel like when she’s on she blows you off the court and then sometimes she can be off,” Pegula says. “It’s just going to be a balance of me still going for my shots and putting pressure on her, but at the same time, you know, not getting frustrated if she’s serving well or if she’s hitting winners.”

Each has reason to feel good. Pegula is in her first round of 16 at the Open, while Kvitova is coming off a dramatic win over Garbiñe Muguruza, 12-10 in a third-set tiebreaker. As Pegula says about Kvitova, you never know. I’ll guess that her run of good play will continue for at least one more round. Winner: Kvitova