NEW YORK, Sept 5, (AFP): Juan Martin del Potro became the lowest ranked man since 1991 to reach the US Open quarter-finals when opponent Dominic Thiem retired from their last-16 tie through injury on Monday.
The 142nd-ranked Argentine was leading 6-3, 3-2 when the eighth-seeded Austrian quit with a knee injury.
Del Potro, the 2009 champion, faces either Stan Wawrinka or Illya Marchenko for a semi-final place.
Jimmy Connors was ranked 174 when he went on to the US Open semi-finals in 1991.
Lucas Pouille outlasted 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in a five-set classic to lead a trio of French men into the quarter-finals of the US Open.
Pouille, 22 and ranked 25th in the world, lived up to the promise of his quarter-final run at Wimbledon, emerging from a roller-coaster ride with a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (8/6) triumph over the Spanish superstar.
The defeat leaves Nadal — forced out of the French Open third round with a wrist injury that also saw him miss Wimbledon — without at least one Grand Slam quarter-final appearance for the first time since he was a teenaged tour newcomer in 2004.
Pouille came out firing, pushing Nadal back with an array of deep groundstrokes and angled shots.
Fifty-two winners from Nadal — whose attacking response saw him come out a winner on 35 of 48 forays to the net — weren’t enough.
The taut battle came down to the fifth-set tiebreaker and Nadal, trailing 3-6, showed his mettle by saving three match points — the third on Pouille’s serve.
Then he smacked a forehand into the net to give Pouille one more chance and the French player pounced on it with a blazing forehand that kissed the sideline.
“I wanted to take my chance to be very aggressive, try to play with my forehand, and so that’s what I did at the (last) match point,” Pouille said.
Nadal acknowledged that his sloppy forehand was “a big mistake”.
“But you are six-all in the tiebreak. I played the right point. I put myself in a position to have the winner and I had the mistake. That’s it. You cannot go crazy thinking about these kind of things.
“The problem is arriving at six-all in the fifth, I should be winning before,” said Nadal, who opened the fifth set with a break but couldn’t hold onto it, dropping his own serve in the eighth to make it 4-4 and set the stage for the tiebreaker.
“I fought until the end,” Nadal said. “There’s things I could do better, but I had the right attitude. I needed something more — it was not there today.”
The four-hour, seven-minute contest entranced the crowd in Arthur Ashe stadium, where Pouille recalled admiring Nadal as a youngster.
Pouille, who has now won three successive five-setters to reach the last eight, wasn’t intimidated by the massive Ashe stage, even though he only practiced on it last year.
“I think it was the best atmosphere I played on a center court,” he said of the 22,000-seat cathedral of tennis.
“At the end it was full. Sometimes I couldn’t even hear myself when I was saying ‘Allez, allez, allez.’”
Pouille next tackles 10th-seeded compatriot Gael Monfils, a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 winner over Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.
Ninth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also advanced, downing Jack Sock, the last American man left in the draw, 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (7/9), 6-2.
It’s the first time since 1947 that three French men have reached the quarter-finals of one Grand Slam.
The 23-year-old Sock, seeded 26th, hadn’t faced a break point in surprising 2014 champion Marin Cilic in the third round.
Against Tsonga he mustered only five aces and was broken six times by the 2008 Australian Open runner-up, who has reached at least the semi-finals of every Grand Slam except this one.
Tsonga next faces world number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic, who powered past 84th-ranked Kyle Edmund of Britain 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.
Edmund looked thoroughly out-classed until he managed to put together a run of three straight games in the third set that included two breaks of Djokovic’s serve.
But the Serb star, who received on-court treatment on his right arm — just as he did in the first round against Jerzy Janowicz — regrouped quickly and closed out the match by breaking Edmund at love.
“Feels great to play a full match after a weird couple of days when I didn’t have too much tennis,” said Djokovic, who was handed a walkover into the third round by injured Czech Jiri Vesely and played just six games before third round opponent Mikhail Youzhny retired hurt.
The remaining round of 16 matches were scheduled for Monday, when world number two Andy Murray will take on Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.
Third-seeded Stan Wawrinka, sixth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan, eighth-seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem and former champion Juan Martin del Potro will also battle for quarter-final berths.
Caroline Wozniacki, derailed this year by an ankle injury which sent her career into a tailspin, and Anastasija Sevastova, who quit the sport three years ago, set up a US Open quarter-final duel.
Former world number one Wozniacki, the runner-up in 2009 and 2014, downed American eighth seed Madison Keys 6-3, 6-4 to make the last-eight in New York for a fifth time.
Sevastova became the first Latvian woman in 22 years to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final when she beat British 13th seed Johanna Konta 6-4, 7-5.
The other quarter-final in the bottom half of the draw sees German second seed Angelique Kerber face Roberta Vinci, the Italian seventh seed.
Kerber defeated Petra Kvitova 6-3, 7-5 while Vinci enjoyed a 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 win over Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine.
Now ranked at 74 in the world after a right ankle injury sidelined her for almost three months, Wozniacki hit just seven unforced errors in her win over Keys.
Wozniacki is back in the last-eight of a Slam for the first time since making the semi-finals in New York in 2014.
“After such a tough year, it’s amazing to be in the quarter-finals,” said the 26-year-old whose Grand Slam record this year had seen first round losses in Australia and Wimbledon while she sat out Roland Garros.
Sevastova, the 26-year-old world number 48, knocked out French Open champion and third seed Garbine Muguruza in the second round and she built on that victory on Arthur Ashe Stadium in a last 16 tie which featured 12 breaks of serve.
Larisa Savchenko was the last Latvian woman to make the quarter-finals of a Slam at Wimbledon in 1994.
Sevastova had not won a match in New York since 2010 before this year and with her career unravelling she quit in May 2013 to study leisure management in Austria.
She returned to the sport in January 2015 and that decision has been fully vindicated by her stunning run.
“I had a lot of injuries. I was depressed and it just wasn’t fun anymore, but now I’m back,” said Sevastova when asked why she turned her back on the sport.
Konta, bidding to become the first British woman in the quarter-finals since Jo Durie in 1983, never recovered from a poor start.
A semi-finalist at the Australian Open in January, the 25-year-old was 3-0 down in the first set and 4-1 behind in the second.
She managed to save a match point in the ninth game of the second set but Sevastova held her nerve to secure victory after 1 hour and 42 minutes,
Wozniacki defeated Sevastova in their only previous meeting, in straight sets in the Australian Open last 16 in 2011.
Australian Open champion Kerber defeated two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova as she looks to improve on her best showing in New York of a semi-final spot in 2011.
Kvitova served up a seventh double fault of the tie to hand Kerber victory having committed 43 unforced errors.
Vinci, the 2015 runner-up, reached the quarter-finals for the fourth time but had to shrug off a tendon injury in her leg to prevail.
“I love to play here. The atmosphere, the crowd, everything is great,” said Vinci who knocked out Serena Williams in the semi-finals in 2015 before losing the final to compatriot Flavia Pennetta.
Kerber and Vinci are 2-2 in head-to-head meetings but haven’t played since Beijing in 2013.