Along with Carlos Alcaraz, four-time US Open champion Rafael Nadal has to be considered amongst the favourites to win the title from the bottom half of the draw. He should be able to ease his way into the tournament here as he takes on an inexperienced Rinky Hijikata, although the Australian wildcard is highly rated and fast improving.
Considering himself an aggressive baseliner, Hijikata has used that style to good effect to propel himself up the rankings once he was able to exit Australia and play on the tour regularly. He was ranked outside the top 700 in June 2021 but has moved up the ranks with titles at 15k and 25k level while picking up wins on the Challenger Tour too. The wildcard held his own against Daniil Medvedev at Los Cabos earlier in the month, winning 7 games in a straight sets loss.
While he will have been disappointed to lose to Borna Coric in Cincinnati, Nadal’s focus will have been on getting back to a reasonable level of confidence following the abdominal injury that derailed his Wimbledon run. “I’m taking care with the serve, being honest. But in general terms, I am practising at a high level of intensity. I’m quite happy the way that I am playing. Of course, we need to compete later. But it’s already two weeks on the Tour, even if only one match professional, official. But practising every day with the guys helps me, without a doubt.” he said on his routine.
Hijikata has shown glimpses of his talent and is improving at such a level that becoming a Top 100 player in the near future does look like a reasonable possibility. However, Nadal will just have too much tactical nous for an opponent like this and will just need to make sure he doesn’t overexert himself ahead of tougher matches. Miomir Kecmanovic is the first seed that Nadal could face but with just two R2s so far in New York, this isn’t entirely a certainty to happen.
Prediction – Rafael Nadal in straight sets