Aussie wildcard Rinky Hijikata has 440,000 reasons to feel better after his dream US Open run was brutally ended on the same day comeback queen Caroline Wozniacki was also sent packing. Hijikata's best ever run at a grand slam tournament was stopped in its tracks in the fourth round, with American 10th seed Frances Tiafoe too strong in a comprehensive 6-4 6-1 6-4 victory.
Wozniacki's own fairytale run was also ended by an American, with local favourite Coco Gauff overcoming a second set fightback from the Dane to seal victory. Wozniacki was playing just her third tournament since coming out of retirement after giving birth to her second child. She was ultimately no match for the 19-year-old Gauff, who stormed home in a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win.
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While Hijikata's breakout US Open run ultimately ended in brutal fashion, the Aussie can great confidence from a career-best run to the last-16 of a grand slam - a run that will see him jump from 110 in the world rankings to a career-high 81st. The Sydneysider is also set to pocket a whopping $US284,000 ($A440,000) for making the fourth round - a figure that will definitely soften the blow from crashing out.
Hijikata's rankings rise also puts him in line for direct entry to the Australian Open in January and gives Australia nine men in the top 100 even without the injured Nick Kyrgios. Only powerhouses the USA (11) and France (11) have more.
"It's been pretty cool to see how all the other Aussie guys and girls have been supporting me and each other," Hijikata said after the Tiafoe match. "We've got a really good group of guys at the moment. I feel like we are all pushing each other to get better."
— TennisAustralia (@TennisAustralia) September 3, 2023
No idea if Hijikata will make it into the top tier, but there are some things to build a game around. His timing on off-angle shots is excellent on both wings. That isn’t easy to do. The Tiafoe serve had him utterly flummoxed though. Both his service, and return games need work.
— 🇺🇦It's wombats, all the way down. (@not_that_CK) September 3, 2023
Hijikata has a lot to be proud of first ever R4 in a GS this guy is going places you've done Australia proud mate 🙌
— Harrison (@Haarriisson) September 3, 2023
Hijikata's service speed was noticeably down from his previous three rounds, with Tiafoe having little trouble picking it off and breaking the 22-year-old six times during the two-hour encounter. The American - who was a semi-finalist in New York last year - conceded only 13 points on his own serve in setting up a quarter-final with unseeded countryman Ben Shelton, who had earlier beaten Tommy Paul in four sets.
Hijikata's exit leaves World No.13 Alex de Minaur as Australia's last remaining singles hope at Flushing Meadows. De Minaur plays third-seed and 2021 US Open champion Daniil Medvedev on Tuesday (AEST) for a place in the quarter-finals.
Coco Gauff stops Caroline Wozniacki in her tracks
Meantime, Gauff's reward for her victory over Wozniacki is a likely date with Iga Swiatek in the last-eight - provided the World No.1 can get past 20th seed Jeļena Ostapenko in her fourth round encounter. Gauff picked up her 15th win in 16 matches, a run including titles in Washington and Cincinnati last month.
The 19-year-old came to life after dropping the opening two games against Wozniacki to take the first set. However, the Dane - playing in her first grand slam in over three years - wound back the clock to send the match into a decider. Wozniacki then broke at the start of the third stanza but it triggering a fierce response from Gauff who swept the final six games to close out a gritty victory.
"Caroline is back, it's like she's never left," Gauff said of the 33-year-old Wozniacki, appearing in just her third tournament since returning to the sport last month. "The level she played today was amazing, and she's been an inspiration for me growing up."
Wozniacki, who made her tour debut when Gauff was only one, retired after the 2020 Australian Open to start a family, giving birth to two children. She was trying to emulate Kim Clijsters, who beat the Dane in the 2009 US Open final on her own return to Grand Slam tennis from maternity leave.
Big respect and admiration for Caroline Wozniacki.
Coming back after 3.5 years and playing tennis at this level, winning a set against the currently most in-form player, is sensational.
She said that she's back to win a Slam, and if she keeps playing like this, it's possible. pic.twitter.com/ziBNoRtHHh
— Eurosport (@eurosport) September 3, 2023
Very impressive comeback from Caroline Wozniacki.
Curious to see her schedule till the end of the year. pic.twitter.com/W4y904I0dA
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) September 3, 2023
Caroline Wozniacki on her loss to Coco Gauff at the US Open:
“She played well. You can’t take away from her playing very well. She has a lot of confidence. She’s been winning a lot lately. You have to give her credit. You win some you lose some. But I’m definitely going to learn… pic.twitter.com/RI5IRxUHAK
— The Tennis Letter (@TheTennisLetter) September 3, 2023
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