A new diamond in the rough for Australian tennis was discovered when Rinky Hijikata gave Rafael Nadal an almighty scare before finally going down against the tennis legend at Wednesday’s US Open.
The 21-year-old, who attended the prestigious King’s School in Sydney before moving to the United States and playing at collegiate level for the University of North Carolina, won his first set against Nadal, shocking the tennis world.
Playing in his first Grand Slam, the 198th-ranked Hijikata lit New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium in electrifying tennis to grab the opening set before Nadal pulled out all the stops in a pulsing 4-6 6-2 6-3 6- . 3 comeback win on Tuesday night.
A star Is Born! Aussie Rinky Hijikata celebrates after winning the first set against Rafael Nadal at the US Open
Rinky Hijikata with girlfriend Lauren Baddour at Wimbledon in July after the Australian played in qualifiers
Hijikata was lauded by former Australian tennis starter Jelena Dokic, who said he couldn’t have started the game better.
“It was the forehand that did so much damage, they really took it upon themselves. The court positioning was just razor sharp, he was ready,” Dokic said in a comment for Channel 9.
“The breakpoint at 3 – everything set the tone for that set, but also the pressure to serve it. Just really unloaded on a lot of these forehands. Just the perfect set from Hijikata.”
Rinky Hijikata celebrates winning the first set in his US Open first-round loss to tennis legend Rafael Nadal
From the outside, it appeared to be a nightmare match for Hijikata, who only played his first ATP event earlier this year before earning a US Open wildcard.
But it only meant that the exuberant Australian, whose father is actually a tennis coach, mastered the opportunity before the legendary Nadal’s class ended up winning.
Nadal, unbeaten in 19 Grand Slam matches in 2022, entered the tournament on a fitness cloud after withdrawing from his scheduled Wimbledon semi-final against Nick Kyrgios with a abdominal tear.
The reigning Australian Open and French Open champion had lost his only match since then in three sets against Borna Coric in Cincinnati two weeks ago.
Rafael Nadal hits a forehand in his US Open win in the first round
The 22-time Grand Slam champion looked vulnerable again after Hijikata conquered the first set with his inspired first shot and attacking tennis.
New Yorkers are famous for loving underdogs, as Aussies often do, and the 21-year-old thrilled the crowd on Center Court with his exciting game.
As Hijikata slammed an airborne forehand winner down the line to raise the set point, the Aussie pumped his fist and waved his arms in triumph after sealing the set with a huge ace down the middle.
It got the crowd excited, leaving fans desperate for more information about him and professing their love for his game on social media.
Hijikata’s victory in the first marked the first time in Nadal’s record-breaking career that he lost his opening set at a US Open.
Unfortunately, Australia’s Grand Slam rookie quickly learned not to celebrate too quickly against what is arguably the fiercest competitor in men’s tennis.
Rinky Hijikata, who was born and raised in Sydney, and her partner Lauren Baddour celebrate Christmas last year
Rafael Nadal celebrates his US Open victory after losing the first set to Hijikata
After quickly hitting back to win sets two and three, Nadal resisted a fierce comeback from Hijikata in the fourth to finally, to great relief, claim victory with his fifth match point after three hours and eight minutes of thrilling action.
The two fighters received a standing ovation after the classic encounter.
Had Nadal lost, it would have been statistically the worst loss in the mighty Spaniard’s 1277-match career.
Nadal has won the US Open four times, including three years ago, and now meets in the second round
Rinky Hijikata with her longtime friend Lauren Baddour earlier this year
Hijikata, who is dating longtime girlfriend Lauren Baddour, will know how to complement his Grand Slam appearances and continue trying to make waves on the ATP Tour.
The name Rinky seems to mean “royal/majestic/noble” by going to names.org; Who knows, maybe Australia has just found its new king of tennis.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/tennis/article-11163107/A-new-Australian-tennis-star-born-Rinky-Hijikata-shocks-Open-giving-Rafael-Nadal-scare.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 A new Australian tennis star is born as Rinky Hijikata shocks the US Open by scaring Rafael Nadal