‘Here to play my best every day,’ Rafael Nadal kicks off long-awaited US Open run with four-set victory


NEW YORK — After dropping the opening set, Rafael Nadal rallied to defeat Rinky Hijikata in the No. 2 seeded opener at the US Open on Tuesday night.

Slow out of the gate, Nadal stormed back, much to the delight of the prime-time crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Their 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 win ended with Nadal beating Hijikata in a grueling match that featured five match points.

Nadal showed no serious lingering effects from the abdominal muscle tear that forced the 22-time Grand Slam champion to pull out of Wimbledon before he was supposed to play in the semi-finals. This is not on his record as a loss, as he did not take the field for the match.

“I went through that tough time but I think I played better, right?” Nadal asked reporters during his post-match press conference. “Of course it wasn’t perfect, but yes, happy.”

After the post-match handshake on Tuesday, a visibly relieved and enthusiastic Nadal let out some emotion with several punches and waves to the crowd after improving to 16-0 in the first round of the US Open.

“Very happy, it’s been a long wait,” Nadal said, after winning his first game in this tournament since 2019. “I felt like maybe I won’t come back here again…so, thank you all.”

Nadal took advantage of the New York stage after the match, staying on the court long after to hit fans with tennis balls, many of whom were still on their feet long after the post-match interview. He will meet Fabio Fognini on Thursday.

“It’s about the process, building on the positive things,” Nadal said. “Today a three hour game against a tough opponent. I want to stay positive. I’m here to give my best every day.”

Earlier in the day, Carlos Alcaraz advanced to the second round when his opponent was forced to stop with an injury in the third set.

Alcaraz, the No. 3 seed, trailed Sebastian Baez 7-5, 7-5, 2-0 when the Argentine player signaled he couldn’t continue due to leg pain or cramps.

The Alcaraz US Open ended last year the same way. He reached the quarter-finals at 18, the youngest man to be this far in New York in the professional era, before stopping in the second set of his loss to Felix Auger-Aliassime due to a right leg injury.

Russia’s Andrey Rublev, the No. 9 seed who has reached the quarter-finals twice at the US Open, reached the second round beating Laslo Djere 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4 in a game that lasted 3 hours and 41 minutes.

Other seeds that have moved up include: 2014 champion Marin Cilic, No. 7 Cameron Norrie, No. 8 Hubert Hurkacz, No. 11 Jannik Sinner, No. 14 Diego Schwartzman, No. No. 17 Grigor Dimitrov, No. 19 Denis Shapovalov, No. 20 Daniel Evans and No. 28 Holger Rune, who then meets John Isner.

The No. 14 seed, Diego Schwartzman, also moved on after American opponent Jack Sock pulled out with an injury while leading 6-3, 7-5, 0-6, 0-1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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