Rafa Nadal has overcome a huge scare from Australian outsider Rinky Hijikata, who stunned the tennis world at the US Open after winning the first set.
Hijikata, the World No.198, was given no chance against the Spanish star at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday, but caused a huge boilover when he took the first 6-4 against the 22-time grand slam champion.
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Hijikata broke an out-of-sorts Nadal in the seventh game to take a 4-3 lead, before holding on to claim the opening set in stunning scenes.
The 21-year-old Australian roared with delight and threw his arms in the air on a number of occasions, with the centre court crowd in New York getting behind the massive Aussie underdog.
Hijikata won almost 80 per cent of his first serves as Nadal made a number of uncharacteristic unforced errors.
Nadal appeared to be suffering from a lack of match practice having played just one tournament before the US Open since withdrawing before the Wimbledon semi-finals due to an abdominal injury.
Fans and commentators expressed their disbelief on social media.
"Wow. Ricky Hijikata breaks Rafael Nadal for a 4-3 lead in the first set," Jose Morago tweeted.
"You can see he is LOVING his Ashe night session experience."
Impressed by Rinky Hijikata, who took a first set — his first set in a major — against Nadal. Great mobility, strong net game. I’m Team Rafa 4eva but gotta give some props #USOpen2022 🇦🇺
— Nate Chinen (@natechinen) August 31, 2022
#198 Australian wild card Rinky Hijikata takes the 1st set against #3 Rafael Nadal, 22 times Grand Slam champ (4 at the #USOpen): 6-4 in 44 minutes.
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) August 31, 2022
What is happening in this Nadal match omg
— Jesse Rubinoff (@jesserubinoff) August 31, 2022
Nadal just lost the first set what the hell is happening#USOpen
— CFCDan (@DannCFC21) August 31, 2022
can't believe Nadal lost the first set of the US Open lol
— Jaimin (@JaiminMUFC) August 31, 2022
Rafa not looking great and loosing the first set itself shows it would be difficult for Nadal today
— Utsav Bhati (@bhati_utsav) August 31, 2022
nadal is a set down? what’s going on there
— maya (@mayaselt) August 31, 2022
Thankfully for Nadal and his legion of fans, regular transmission resumed in the second set before he went on to win the match 4-6 6-2 6-3 6-3 to advance to the second round.
However the Spaniard needed five match points to secure the match in the fourth set, with Hijikata showing immense fight and courage on the biggest stage in tennis.
It marked Nadal's first win at the US Open since 2019. He opted not to travel to America in 2020 before. afoot injury ruled him out of the hard-court grand slam last year.
Nadal, who is a four-time champion in New York, is looking to take advantage of Novak Djokovic's absence and win his 23rd major.
James Duckworth wins all-Australian battle
James Duckworth earlier denied Chris O'Connell to take the spoils in another all-Australian first-round match-up at the US Open.
It may not have captured the attention and fanfare of Nick Kyrgios' centre-court victory over Thanasi Kokkinakis on Monday night.
But Duckworth's 4-6 7-6 (7-0) 6-2 6-3 defeat of O'Connell on Tuesday was no less significant to the 30-year-old journeyman.
As well as a second-round opportunity against British 20th seed Dan Evans, Duckworth has guaranteed himself the second-biggest pay day of his stop-start grand slam career.
Duckworth will pocket a cheque for at least $US121,000 ($A168,000) for reaching the second round at Flushing Meadows for only the second time in seven attempts.
He is also set for an important rankings boost, provisionally expected to climb 12 spots to No.71 in the world, well back inside the cut-off mark for direct entry to future grand slams.
These are big rewards for a resilient campaigner who has endured 10 rounds of foot, elbow, shoulder and hip surgery to keep his career going.
"Yeah, it's a nice bonus," Duckworth said.
"My fiancee texted me after the match and said 'well done, you've paid for the wedding'."
An upset win over Evans, who is ranked 60 places higher at No.23 in the world, would ensure Duckworth leaves the Big Apple with a minimum of $US188,000 ($A$275,000).
But it's the thrill of the chase that satisfies Duckworth most.
"I play the game to win," he said.
"I love competing and I really enjoy the aspect of just trying to get better, trying to improve my game.
"[Coach] Wayne (Arthurs) and I are constantly going back and forth about different things. The little one-percenters. That gives me a lot of enjoyment as well. Just improving."
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