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Rafa Nadal ended a sub-par grand slam season on a heartbreaking note when he fell 3-6 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-4 at the US Open to an inspired Fabio Fognini after winning the first two sets at Flushing Meadows.

Clay-court specialist Fognini, who was 0-7 on hard courts coming into the US Open, played magnificently from the third set on, picking Nadal apart with groundstroke angles and deft play at the net, where the Italian won 39 of 54 advances.

The final set produced spectatcular rallies and winners that had the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd on their feet well after 1am as the combatants traded seven service breaks in a row from the third game of the fifth set before Fognini held to end the three hour 46-minute tilt.

The defeat ended eighth-seeded Nadal's streak of 10 years in a row with at least one grand slam singles title after the Spaniard lost in the quarters at the Australian and French Opens, while going down in the second round at Wimbledon.

It was Nadal's first grand slam defeat after winning the first two sets of a match. The only previoius such defeat in his career came in the 2005 Miami finals to Roger Federer.

Fognini advanced to a fourth-round match against Spain's Feliciano Lopez, a 6-2 7-6 6-3 upset winner against 10th seeded Milos Raonic of Canada.

Djokovic is inching closer towards a second US Open title ]AP]

Earlier, Novak Djokovic and defending champion Marin Cilic took different routes into the fourth round.

After a week of punishing heat that saw a record 13 players retire, cooler temperatures returned to Flushing Meadows as world number one Djokovic eased to a third round 6-3 7-5 7-5 victory over Italian Andreas Seppi.

Cilic also kept his title defence on track but not without a scare as the ninth seed needed over four hours to put away Kazakhstan's 56th-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin 6-7(5) 7-6(1) 6-3 6-7(3) 6-1.

Frenchman Jeremy Chardy provided the upset of the day dispatching seventh seeded Spaniard David Ferrer 7-6(6) 4-6 6-3 6-1 and was joined at the exit by Canadian 10th seed Milos Raonic who was beat 6-2 7-6(4) 6-3 by Spain's Feliciano Lopez.

Results:

32-Fabio Fognini (Italy) beat 8-Rafa Nadal (Spain) 3-6 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-4
1-Novak Djokovic (Serbia) beat 25-Andreas Seppi (Italy) 6-3 7-5 7-5
9-Marin Cilic (Croatia) beat Mikhail Kukushkin (Kazakhstan) 6-7(5) 7-6(1) 6-3 6-7(3) 6-1
19-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France) beat Sergiy Stakhovsky (Ukraine) 6-3 7-5 6-2
Benoit Paire (France) beat 26-Tommy Robredo (Spain) 7-6(3) 6-1 6-1
27-Jeremy Chardy (France) beat 7-David Ferrer (Spain) 7-6(6) 4-6 6-3 6-1
18-Feliciano Lopez (Spain) beat 10-Milos Raonic (Canada) 6-2 7-6(4) 6-3
23-Roberto Bautista (Spain) beat 14-David Goffin (Belgium) 2-6 5-7 6-3 3-1 (Goffin retired)

Source: Reuters