Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal are two terrific champions who have won multiple major tournaments, Williams 21 and Nadal 14. At various times over the past decade, both have dominated their sport, but at this major event their fortunes appeared to have reversed.
Williams is in hot pursuit of victories in all four major tournaments in 2015, and Nadal has lost in all of them.
For the first time since he began winning majors in 2004, Nadal will go a calendar year without winning a single major tournament. That unkind distinction was confirmed when No. 32 Fabio Fognini came from two sets down to upset Nadal, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, in a heavyweight slugfest that lasted until 1:27 a.m. Saturday.
It had begun 3 hours, 39 minutes earlier as Nadal followed Williams out under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium for the second time this week.
Unlike Williams, Nadal has not had a very good year, but this result was more about a fantastic comeback fashioned by Fognini than anything Nadal did wrong.
“It’s something incredible I did today,” Fognini said.
Both men competed to their limits, and perhaps a little beyond. They ran and fought, pounding grounds strokes at one another and electrifying an audience that grew increasingly loud even as it thinned out because of the hour.
On the final stroke, an errant backhand by Nadal that went wide, Fognini stood behind the baseline with his hands on his hips, knowing that for the first time since the clock had turned to Saturday morning, he would not have to do any more running.
It was not a look of elation for such a hard-earned victory, but more one of relief. There was no fist-pump, no triumphant yell, barely even a smile. He stood there for a moment, looked around, and then met Nadal at the net to shake hands after they had played 306 points.
It was the first time Nadal had lost a match after winning the first two sets, which some may see as the latest indication of his faltering form. But it took a signature performance by Fognini to make it happen.
“It was not a match that I lost,” Nadal said. “Even if I had opportunities, it’s a match that he wins.”
In the fourth round, Fognini will play Feliciano López, who beat Milos Raonic in straight sets earlier in the day. First, after his grueling encounter with Nadal, he will require some rest.