Defiant Rafael Nadal has vowed to fight on and restore his status after crashing to his earliest US Open exit in 10 years.
The 14-time grand slam winner was knocked out in the third round on Friday by Italy’s Fabio Fognini, 3-6 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-4.
The result confirmed the decline of the two-time champion who had previously won 151 grand slam matches after taking the first two sets.
Nadal will also finish the season without a grand slam title for the first time since 2004.
It was the 15th defeat of a miserable year, in which he had beaten just two top-10 players and his best majors performances were Australian and French open quarter-finals.
“The only thing this means is I played worse than the last 10 years,” said Nadal, who dropped serve nine times.
“I have to accept that it was not my year and keep fighting till the end of the season to finish in a positive way for me.”
Nadal refused to elaborate on areas he needed to improve.
“I improved something from the beginning of the season. That’s something that I think I am doing. I think I have a good base now,” added Nadal, who missed last year’s US Open with a wrist injury before an appendix operation.
“I am not playing terrible like I was at the start of the season. When I am losing, I am losing because the opponents beat me, not because I lose the match, as I did a lot of times at the beginning of the season.”
Fognini, the 32nd seed, becomes the first Italian man in the US Open last 16 since Davide Sanguinetti in 2005 and will face Spain’s No.18 Feliciano Lopez for a quarter-final berth. Lopez impressed with a 6-2 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 defeat of Canadian 10th seed Milos Raonic.
“It was an incredible match to come from two sets down against Rafa, who is one of the best players in the world,” added the Italian.
“After the first two sets, I said ‘OK, just concentrate, keep trying and anything can happen’.”
Nadal had been stretched to a five-setter at the US Open for only the second time in his career.
Earlier, top seed Novak Djokovic defeated Italy’s Andreas Seppi 6-3 7-5 7-5, inching closer to a sixth final in New York.
Djokovic will face Spain’s No.23 Roberto Bautista Agut for a place in the last eight.
The Serb star was pushed hard by 25th seed Seppi, who knocked Roger Federer out of January’s Australian Open.
“I had to hang in there and try and play at my pace,” said Djokovic.
“He was aggressive and went for backhands down the line. I just had to stay patient and wait for my opportunities,” said the world No.1, striving for his 25th consecutive grand slam quarter-final.
Joining him in the fourth round is defending champion and No.9 Marin Cilic, after an epic test by Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin.
Cilic took four hours and 18 minutes to win 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-1) 6-3 6-7 (3-7) 6-1.
“It wasn’t easy but I stayed together and got it done,” Cilic said.
France’s Benoit Paire reached his first grand slam fourth round with a 7-6 (7-3) 6-1 6-1 victory over Spain’s Tommy Robredo to set up a showdown with 19th-seeded countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a 6-3 7-5 6-2 winner over Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky.
In a strong day for the French and a poor Friday for the Spanish, No.27 Jeremy Chardy ousted seventh seed David Ferrer, 7-6 (8-6) 4-6 6-3 6-1.