NEW YORK, August 31: Four-time champion Rafael Nadal overcame dropping the first set to defeat Australian wildcard Rinky Hijikata at the US Open first round on Tuesday.
Nadal triumphed 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 over his 198th-ranked opponent to register his 65th career win in New York.
The 36-year-old Spaniard, who is chasing a 23rd Grand Slam title and third of 2022, next faces Fabio Fognini.
Nadal holds a 13-4 career lead over the Italian but Fognini famously defeated him from two sets down in the third round of the US Open in 2015.
“I’m very happy to be back. It’s a long time that I played here. I thought that maybe I’d never be back,” said Nadal whose last appearance in New York saw him win the 2019 title.
World number three Nadal came into this year’s tournament under an injury cloud after an abdominal strain had forced him to forfeit his Wimbledon semi-final against Nick Kyrgios.
Before Tuesday, he had played just once, a first-up loss to Borna Coric in Cincinnati and he looked rusty at the start on Tuesday.
Hijikata, making his Grand Slam debut, surprisingly broke for a 4-3 edge and claimed the opener in the 10th game on the back of 11 fearless winners.
However, Nadal was quickly back in business with breaks in the second and eighth games of the second set bringing him level in the contest.
A break in the fourth game of the third for a 3-1 lead was enough to secure a two sets to one lead.
He wrapped up the tie on a fifth match point, sealing the victory with searing forehand pass to progress in a tournament missing his longtime rival Novak Djokovic who was banned from the US over his refusal to be vaccinated.
Naomi Osaka bundled out of US Open in first round
Naomi Osaka’s hopes of a third US Open title were dashed in the first round on Tuesday as the Japanese star slumped to a straight-sets loss against Danielle Collins.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka, a winner at Flushing Meadows in 2018 and 2020, was beaten 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 by 19th-seeded American Collins in a battle of two big hitters.
Collins, finalist at this year’s Australian Open, now advances to a second-round clash with Spain’s Cristina Bucsa.
The 28-year-old right-hander from Florida will head into that assignment brimming with confidence after showing great composure to put away Osaka on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Former world number one Osaka, whose ranking has fallen to 44 after an inconsistent year, made a smooth start with an early break to take a 3-0 lead.
But Collins battled back into the match and took the first set after winning a hard-fought tie-break.
With both players producing some booming groundstrokes, the second set was a question of who would blink first.
Collins put herself on the threshold of victory after breaking Osaka for a 5-3 lead in the eighth game.
Osaka, 24, came within touching distance of securing the break of serve needed to keep the match alive after taking a 15-40 lead in the ninth game.
But Collins rallied back to deuce and then seized victory on her first match point when Osaka hit a return long. (AFP)