Tenacious Nadal downs wildcard Hijikata in US Open first round

NEW YORK — Second seed Rafael Nadal overcame an early scare to down 21-year-old Australian wildcard Rinky Hijikata 4-6 6-2 6-3 6-3 Tuesday in his first appearance at the US Open after winning in 2019.

Playing in only his second match after pulling out of Wimbledon with an abdominal injury, the Spaniard had speculated whether he was ready to take on New York and seemed to confirm those fears as he struggled on the return in the first set.

Mr. Hijikata incredibly broke the 22-times major winner with a crisp overhead shot in the seventh game of his Grand Slam debut but it was Goliath who got the momentum over David under the bright lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium, as the fighter Mr. Nadal charged through the first three games of the second set.

Mr. Nadal improved in virtually every respect as his opponent’s form deteriorated, dropping just one of his first-serve points with few mistakes, as Mr. Hijikata racked up a dozen unforced errors and dropped his serve in the final game.

Thriving on familiar territory, the four-time Flushing Meadows winner Nadal never faced a break in the third set and broke Hijikata to love in the fifth game of the final set before recovering from 0-40 in the eighth to hold his own serve.

Mr. Hijikata gave the rowdy New York crowd a final thrill as he defended four match points in the ninth before succumbing to Mr. Nadal’s vicious forehand winner.

“Long wait — for some time I thought that maybe I will not be able to be back,” Mr. Nadal said in an on-court interview after the match. “The night sessions here in New York are the best without a doubt.” — Reuters