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

NEW YORK — After losing the first set, Rafael Nadal rallied to defeat Rinky Hijikata in the No. 2’s opening match at Tuesday night’s US Open.

Sluggishly out of goal, Nadal stormed back, much to the delight of the prime-time crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium. His 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 win ended with Nadal overtaking Hijikata in a grueling five match point game.

Nadal showed no serious after-effects of the abdominal muscle tear that forced the 22-time Grand Slam champion to withdraw from Wimbledon before he was due to play in the semifinals. That doesn’t count as a loss on his tally because he didn’t go out on the field for the match.

“I went through that difficult moment, but then I think I played better, right?” Nadal asked reporters in his post-game press conference. “Of course it wasn’t perfect, but yes, happy.”

After Tuesday’s post-game handshake, a visibly relieved and delighted Nadal vented some emotion to the crowd with multiple punches and waves after improving to 16-0 in the first round at the US Open.

“Very happy, it’s been a long wait,” said Nadal after winning his first match in this tournament since 2019. “I felt like maybe I wouldn’t come back here… so thanks everyone.”

Nadal took advantage of the New York stage after the game and stayed late on the court to hit tennis balls to fans, many of whom were still on their feet long after the post-game interview. On Thursday he meets Fabio Fognini.

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

Earlier in the day, Carlos Alcaraz advanced to the second round when his opponent had to retire in the third set through injury.

Alcaraz, the No. 3, was leading 7-5 7-5 2-0 against Sebastian Baez when the Argentine signaled he could not continue due to leg pain or cramps.

Alcaraz’s US Open ended in a similar way last year. He reached the quarterfinals at 18, the youngest man to have made it that far in New York in the pro era before stopping in the second set of his loss to Felix Auger-Aliassime with a right thigh injury.

Russia’s Andrey Rublev, number 9 who reached the quarterfinals twice at the US Open, advanced to the second round by beating Laslo Djere 7-6 (5) 6-3 3-6 4-6 6-6 4 passed in a game that lasted 3 hours and 41 minutes.

Among other rising seeds were: 2014 Champion Marin Cilic, No.7 Cameron Norrie, No.8 Hubert Hurkacz, No.11 Jannik Sinner, No.14 Diego Schwartzman, No.17 Grigor Dimitrov, No.19 Denis Shapovalov, No. 20 Daniel Evans and No. 28 Holger Rune, who meets John Isner next.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

https://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/34489812/carlos-alcaraz-reaches-second-round-us-open-tennis-tournament-opponent-injured ‘Here to play my best every day,’ Rafael Nadal begins long-awaited US Open run with four-set victory

Emma Bowman

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