Author: Natalie

Nadal beat Hijikata to avoid knockout

Nadal beat Hijikata to avoid knockout

Rafael Nadal drops first set but rallies to defeat Rinky Hijikata at US Open – live! Read more

Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Japanese qualifier Rinky Hijikata in a three-set match at the US Open on Monday. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

The last two years have been hard on Nadal, and the Spaniard is not entirely sure what the answer is. His form has dipped and, after an impressive start to his second-round match at the US Open on Monday, he had to beat Hijikata, a 19-year-old Japanese qualifier, to avoid being knocked out of the first round.

But he showed his strength of character to get back on track and take the first set, taking the first of four breaks that were crucial to his comeback. The first set was even, and he took a three-game lead in sets 2 and 3 but Hijikata, a champion of Japan’s highest level, got his game back together and, on the third, took the first of four break points – all the Spanish men had saved so far this year. But after a back pass that looked as if it would take him to the net, Hijikata held up and then missed a second-serve return.

It came down to a sixth-set tie-breaker, in which Hijikata, a former No 10 for the Hiroshima Carp, was the aggressor and saved two break points. Then he broke back and took the chance to serve, when Nadal took a double-fault and had to save three more break points in a long, long rally. Hijikata then won an extra game on the second of his five breakpoints but Nadal kept his cool and saved the final break to end the match.

“When I took my chances I really tried to give my best and I didn’t feel like I lost,” said Nadal, who now has to beat another Japanese qualifier Hideto Kawahara in the second round on Wednesday. “I am sure I will play better tomorrow and give myself more chances, and if I lose it will be a very good learning experience for me.

“This was a little more difficult than the first one because the first set was a little bit easier than the second one but I was more excited and

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