Relieved Nadal keeps No.1 spot in sight

·3-min read

Rafael Nadal breathed a huge sigh of relief after passing a stern test of his US Open credentials in his first match at Flushing Meadows in three long years.

Nadal resisted a spirited challenge from Australian wildcard Rinky Hijikata to move safely into the second round with a 4-6 6-2 6-3 6-3 win over the world No.196.

Nadal, who could supplant Danill Medvedev from the top ranking even if he doesn't win a fifth title in New York, was mightily relieved to have avoided an early exit.

The 22-times grand slam champion was making his first appearance at Flushing Meadows since beating Medvedev in the 2019 final.

He opted out of his latest title defence during the height of COVID-19 in 2020, then sat out last year's edition with a foot injury.

Complicating the Spaniard's return was an abdominal tear that ruled him out of a scheduled Wimbledon semi-final against Nick Kyrgios.

"Very happy. A long wait. For some time I thought maybe I might not be able to be back but here I am," Nadal said.

"I didn't play a match for the last 50 days - only one match, I think. So it's about being humble and accept the process to build the positive things in the practice things.

"And today the match has been three hours, eight minutes against a tough opponent. So it's a moment to survive, stay positive and just accept it's how it's happening.

"I stay positive, stay with the right attitude tomorrow - one more day to practice tomorrow - and then it's another opportunity.

"I'm just enjoying the fact I'm here and here to try my best every day."

Third seed Carlos Alcaraz, who became the youngest man to reach the quarter-final in New York a year ago, advanced after his Argentine opponent Sebastian Baez retired when the Spanish teenager was leading 7-5 7-5 2-0.

Russian ninth seed Andrey Rublev blew a two-set lead against Laslo Djere and was made to work hard for his 7-6(7-5) 6-3 3-6 4-6 6-4 victory in a match that lasted more than 3-1/2 hours.

Italian 11th seed Jannik Sinner's first round match also lasted over 3-1/2 hours as he outlasted Germany's Daniel Altmaier 5-7 6-2 6-1 3-6 6-1.

Argentine 14th seed Diego Schwartzman advanced to the second round after his American opponent Jack Sock retired with an injury while leading 6-3 7-5 0-6 0-1.

Britain's Cameron Norrie beat Benoit Paire 6-0 7-6 (7-1) 6-0 in a strange clash in which the Frenchman at times appeared not to be making maximum effort and play was stopped when a fan required medical attention.

Canadian 19th seed Denis Shapovalov earned a hard-fought 2-6 6-4 6-4 3-6 6-1 victory over Marc-Andrea Huesler of Switzerland in a match that lasted almost three hours.

American Sam Querrey, playing in his last tournament before retirement, lost 4-6 6-4 7-6 (10-8) 6-3 to Belarusian Ilya Ivashka.

Big-serving American John Isner defeated Argentina's Federico Delbonis in straight sets while compatriot Brandon Nakashima despatched PavelKotov in similar fashion.

Dan Evans swept aside Jiri Vesely 6-4 6-1 6-1 in an hour and 55 minutes to become the fourth British man through to the second round alongside Norrie, Andy Murray and Jack Draper.