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Rinky Hijikata goes down fighting against Rafael Nadal at US Open as James Duckworth, Alexei Popyrin advance

Australian wildcard Rinky Hijikata has threatened to pull off the upset of the year before falling to Rafael Nadal in a daring US Open debut.

Hijikata lit up Arthur Ashe Stadium with some electrifying tennis to win the opening set, but Nadal rebounded in a pulsating 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 comeback victory.

Now unbeaten in 19 grand slam outings in 2022, Nadal entered the tournament under a fitness cloud after withdrawing from his scheduled Wimbledon semifinal with Nick Kyrgios with an abdominal tear.

The reigning Australian and French Open champion had lost his only match since, to Borna Coric in Cincinnati in three sets two weeks ago.

The 22-times major singles champion again looked vulnerable after Hijikata — ranked number 198 in the world — captured the first set with some inspired first-strike, attacking tennis.

New Yorkers are famous for loving an underdog and the 22-year-old duly whipped the centre-court crowd into a frenzy when he clubbed an airborne forehand winner down the line to bring up set point.

He then fist-pumped and waved his arms in triumph after sealing the set with a huge ace down the middle.

It was the first time in Nadal's record-breaking career that he had lost his opening set at a US Open.

Alas, Hijikata quickly learned not to prematurely celebrate against arguably the most ferocious competitor men's tennis has ever seen.

After hitting back swiftly to take the second and third sets, Nadal resisted a fierce fightback from Hijikata in the fourth to eventually clinch victory, to great relief, on his fifth match point after three hours and eight minutes of enthralling action.

Duckworth goes through

James Duckworth defeated Chris O'Connell to take the spoils in their all-Australian first-round match.

It may not have captured the attention and fanfare of Nick Kyrgios's centre-court victory over Thanasi Kokkinakis on day one.

But Duckworth's 4-6, 7-6 (7/0), 6-2, 6-3 defeat of O'Connell 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 biggest payday of his stop-start grand slam career.

Duckworth will pocket a cheque for at least $US121,000 ($168,000) for reaching the second round at Flushing Meadows for only the second time in seven attempts.

An upset win over Evans, who is ranked 60 places higher at number 23 in the world, would ensure Duckworth leaves the Big Apple with a minimum of $US188,000 ($275,000).

Duckworth is also set for an important rankings boost, provisionally expected to climb 12 spots to number 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.

Duckworth and O'Connell were among a number of Australians scheduled for day two action at the Open.

Wildcard Jaimee Fourlis departed the tournament after a straight sets loss to China's Yue Yuan 6-3, 6-2. 

Alexei Popyrin won through to the second round by defeating Taiwan's Chun-Tsin Tseng 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 7-3 in two hours and 42 minutes.

It was an erratic match, with neither player getting more than 50 per cent of first serves in.

It was hit or miss for Popyrin, who mixed 46 winners and 47 unforced errors. He had enough in reserve, however, to break Tseng four times during the match.


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