Rafael Nadal drops first set but bounces back to defeat Rinky Hijikata at the US Open



CNN

Rafael Nadal dropped his first set at the US Open but bounced back to defeat Australian wild card Rinky Hijikata 4-6 6-2 6-3 6-3.

It means Nadal remains unbeaten in his 20 Grand Slam matches this year after winning the Australian Open and French Open before pulling out of the Wimbledon semi-finals through injury.

The Spaniard was playing his first US Open match since winning his fourth title at Flushing Meadows in 2019, and had to overcome an early scare against the world no. 198 Hijikata.

“I was a little nervous,” Nadal said of his performance in the first set. “The first game here in New York after three years, a night session, it’s always exciting. I went through this tough time.”

Hijikata secured the first break with a lob at 3-3 before serving for an early lead, but Nadal began to assert his dominance in the second set, breaking Hijitaka’s serve at the first opportunity.

Nadal looked calm from there, leveling the match with another break and then taking the next two sets to complete the win in just over three hours. He finished the match with 42 winners and 22 unforced errors.

TO READ: Defending champion Raducanu and Osaka lose in US Open first round

Nadal (right) and Hijikata meet at the net after the first round match.

Without Novak Djokovic in the draw, Nadal has a strong chance of winning his 23rd Grand Slam title at this year’s US Open.

However, she enters the tournament with little match experience having played just once since withdrawing from Wimbledon with an abdominal strain – a loss against Borna Ćorić at the Western and Southern Open.

“You know what, I’ve been practicing pretty well all week,” Nadal said. “Then competing is a different story. You have to go through this whole process, it’s not easy.”

The 36-year-old was also questioned for taking too long between serves during Tuesday’s match, but Nadal insisted the umpires were not treating him differently and did not warn him for exceeding the time limit between service

“I have a problem that I’m sweating a lot,” he explained. “When you play in these wet conditions, today we have the biggest problem, which is we don’t have the ballboys who have been bringing you the towel for the last two years, you have to go to the far side of the court to get the towel

“The problem with players like me is that I’m sweating a lot. When you go to collect the towel, you’re going to have problems with the weather, so I don’t go there very often. I don’t think I’m treated any differently than the referees.”

Nadal will face Italy’s Fabio Fognini in the second round, a player he has defeated 13 times in 17 matches.

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