Rafael Nadal has dominated the Grand Slams this season, winning every single one of the 20 matches he has played, winning two championships and failing at Wimbeldon solely because he struggled against the Grand Slams Limits of what a human body can endure. He’s back in New York this month for his first US Open since winning the 2019 edition via that goofy look player Daniil Medvedev and he looks healthy and ready for another run. Although the best tennis as tennis A Grand Slam comes in the later rounds, when the titans of the game clash in physical and mental combat, the early rounds are also extremely entertaining. To have the right to advance and take another hit in history, Nadal had to go head-to-head with an Australian named Rinky Hijikata, who was playing in his first-ever Grand Slam match. The match turned out to be pretty awesome.
Hijikata is a 21-year-old former UNC Tar Heels star who made it into the top 300 this season and earned a wild card spot at the US Open thanks to a strong performance at a recent tournament in Mexico. His reward for finally making a Grand Slam after several near misses in qualifying rounds was a date with Nadal, and Hijikata rose to the point on Tuesday. Being 5-foot-10 and not as strong as the real boomers on tour, Hijikata relies on a powerful serve and skillful net play, and he came ablaze against Nadal. He regularly rushed the net and drop quick pointsand he won the first set with an ace. Nadal had never lost the first set at a US Open before, and Hijikata took it from him with real flair.
I don’t think you’ll be too surprised when you learn that Hijikata’s magic has run out. As exciting as Surprises like Daniel Elahi Galán’s victory are above Stefanos Tsitsipas, they are the exception. Nadal has only lost twice in the first round at a Grand Slam so far, which is the kind of ironclad dominance you’d expect from someone as mentally caged as Nadal. If most of the early upsets happen because the higher-seeded player overlooks his opponent, then Nadal is better insulated by his intelligence than his peers in the top 30. Yet, although Tuesday’s result felt predetermined after Nadal’s 6-2 second set result , Hijikata fought as hard as he could. Nadal started hitting hard punches right on the line, forcing Hijikata to sprint and dash and fight to the limit. He was clearly out of his depth and heading for defeat, which may be the reason for the pro-Rafa crowd enthusiastically toasted his triumphs. The moment wasn’t too big for him.
Nadal approved after the game that he was still getting used to playing at full intensity after recovering from his abdominal injury and that it took him a set to get used to Arthur Ashe again. That doesn’t change Hijikata’s performance and perhaps the best confirmation of his quality was when he forced Nadal to push himself; The shot Nadal took to victory profaned the laws of geometry.