The night must have been a walk for Rafael Nadal at his debut in this edition of the US Open. but it was a trap. In front of him he had an ideal rival to take filming after a summer of inactivity of the most successful tennis player in history. His name is Rinky Hijakata and nobody knew him in New York. But he gave Nadal a scare and made him sweat to get through to the second round (4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3).
That no one at New York headquarters knew Hijakata is not a figure of speech. It was the first time that he stepped on a Grand Slam. He hadn’t even been seen by the stalwarts who flock to Flushing Meadow to watch the previous qualifiers, where promising youngsters meet old glories in search of a spot in the draw.
Hijikata, a 21-year-old Australian, came into the draw by invitation from the US Open, within an agreement that the tournament has with the Australian Open. He has tried to earn a ticket to a ‘big one’ in the Australian and Wimbledon qualifiers, but has never succeeded. Against Nadal it was his fourth match on the ATP circuit, all this year. Only in the New York central, the Spanish has won four finals.
Hijikata burst out laughing before the game started with a face of “what am I doing here”. But later, when the sound of the drumming began, he seemed to say: “If we have come to play, let us play”.
He came out cheeky from the start. If this is the only time she has appeared on the center stage of a ‘big one’, no one will be able to say that she didn’t give it her all. the australian moved quickly and fired aggressively. He played every point to an open grave. Accurate ‘passing shots’, left, parallels that kissed the line…
The weight of the lack of minutes
Nadal maybe noticed the lack of minutes on the track. Since the abdominal injury that forced him to withdraw after heroically reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals, he has only played one match. He lost to Borna Coric – who later won that tournament by surprise – in Cincinnati and hasn’t played anymore. “It’s a match in 50 days,” he said after finishing the match.
The Spanish tennis player got mixed up in unforced errors, lacked accuracy at the back of the court and did not put the usual pressure on Hijikata. The atmosphere was also not ideal: heat and humidity on a tropical night in New Yorkthe deafening murmur of the stands with the roof closed due to a storm, the rude public in the expensive stands, who arrive late to their seats with their hands full of drinks…
And Hijikata, enlarged. He broke her serve for 4-3 and then took the first set. From an ideal sparring partner for Nadal, Hijikata had become a perfect pain in his intimate areas.
The Spaniard put only half a gear more in the second set and that was enough to level the match and, in the next set, get ahead. He was still far from his best tennisbut began to send with his forehand and gain consistency with the serve.
Hijakata, without complexes, to his own
Hijikata went about his business. Without fear, he went up to the net to volley after his serve and went ahead to subtract Nadal’s with power. His game on the wire, with spectacular points, led him to lose many points, but also to give another little scare to Nadal’s parish. He went 0-40 to go 4-3 and threaten a long and dangerous night for the man from Manacor.
The Spanish raised it, like so many times. Then he had a hard time closing the last game, which lasted between the ‘deuce’ and the ‘advantages’. Nadal shook his head, frustrated with himself. He was not the best version of himself, and he is going to need it if he wants to qualify for the ‘great’ number 23 of his and close a ‘Grand Slam’ season as complicated as it is triumphant. “I need to improve and I think I will improve”, Nadal said later at a press conference.
“When the games get complicated, it doesn’t matter if it’s the first round or the third, you have to put everything on your side to get ahead”, he added “One cannot be apathetic to survive difficult situations. One has to be with the right energy to try to pull this off. Because things are not that easy, whether you are Rafa Nadal, Djokovic, Federer or whoever you are. In the end the rivals play, the difference is never very big and you have to be prepared to suffer”.
And he suffered more than three hours, until he managed to finish off the Australian. It was with a last huge blow, a very demanded right, in foreshortening. after Hijikata opened a wide angle, he sent an impossible parallel close to the line. It was a warning to sailors: Nadal is in the tournament and is capable of doing this, despite the physical problems stemming from the Wimbledon abdominal injury.
“I have changed the service a bit. I throw the ball a little lower so I can avoid a much more aggressive gesture with the abdominal, ”she explained. “I try to do things that help me have real options,” she added before acknowledging that she has to “walk on eggshells” because of that injury..
He will need strikes like the latter more often with his next opponent, Fabio Fognini, with whom he has an old rivalry. The Italian came from two sets down on this stage in 2015, in one of Nadal’s worst defeats in New York. He has caused trouble on and off the track (the last one, accusing Nadal on social networks of not being injured at Wimbledon). On Thursday they will speak on the track.