Rafael Nadal is back to winning ways. Since his quarter-final snatch against Taylor Fritz at Wimbledon on July 6, the Spaniard was weaned from success. A long absence due to the abdominal injury contracted that same day on the London Center court, then an entry defeat for his recovery in Cincinnati six weeks later against Borna Coric. On Tuesday, Nadal’s phenomenal 2022 season therefore regained momentum. Gently, because he was not always amused against the surprising Rinky Hijikata, who only gave up in four sets (4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3) and more than three hours of play.
New York (and probably much of the rest of the world) has discovered a promising player who begs to be seen again. 198th in the world, the 21-year-old Australian was playing his very first Grand Slam match. On the biggest court in the world. Against the most successful player in Grand Slam history. There would have been enough to be paralyzed. But it was quite the opposite. Rinky Hijikata played released from the start of the match. Punch in the exchange, sacred slaps in the forehand, fire rods and an ability to appreciate the moment without getting caught up.
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Result, it was he who signed the first break of the match, on a point which sums up the guy well with a race forward to distill a remarkable counter-amortization. Opposite, Nadal was a little rusty, in quarter tint. Too many faults, especially in return of service, not enough consistency and it is very logical that the world number 3 ended up losing this initial set. It was already a small sensation. But it would not become gigantic. The rest of the debates found a more logical framework, with a Nadal rising in power and a Hijikata ceasing to (over?) play the fire.
In each of the next three rounds, the Mallorcan had the good idea to break either from the start, or early enough to find himself in a comfortable situation. But the drought of the score of these three sets testifies in a rather unfair way to the quality of the opposition. Rinky Hijikata stayed until the end in his match, like a very tight end of the fourth set. The last two games have stretched over 20 minutes.
In the first, Nadal, trailing 0-40, saved his serve on the wire. In the second, he had to wait for his fifth match point to finally conclude, with a marvel of long-line passing forehand. A monstrous slap as the perfect final exclamation point. In the end, a qualification without trembling but without having fun either for the quadruple winner of the US Open. And it’s not so bad. Just enough to put him, straight away, in his fortnight.
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