Rafael Nadal had never lost a Grand Slam match when taking a two-set lead until he was beaten 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 by 32nd-seeded Fabio Fognini of Italy in the third round of the US Open on Friday night.
The eighth-seeded Nadal's defeat also ends the Spaniard's 10-year streak of winning at least one major title per season. He lost in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and the French Open, then the second round at Wimbledon.
Nadal, who has won two of his 14 career major titles at Flushing Meadows, not only claimed the first two sets against Fognini, but also led by a break in the third at 3-1.
He couldn't sustain it, though, as Fognini began taking more high-risk shots — and putting plenty right where he wanted them, winding up with more than twice as many winners as Nadal, 70 to 30.
Ripping big groundstrokes off both wings, many on a full sprint, the two men engaged in entertaining exchanges that thrilled the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd until nearly 1:30am on Saturday, three hours, 45 minutes after they began.
The 52-minute fifth set alone was filled with one apparent momentum swing after another. Starting at 1-all, there were seven consecutive breaks of serve, a pattern that finally ended when Fognini broke to go ahead 5-4, then held to end it.
Nadal had won 22 of his last 23 US Open matches, including earning titles in 2010 and 2013, and reaching the final in 2011. He missed the tournament because of health issues in 2012 and last year.
Fognini reached the fourth round at Flushing Meadows for the first time. The last Italian man to get that far at the US Open was Davide Sanguinetti a decade ago.