Rafael Nadal drops first set but rallies to defeat Rinky Hijikata at US Open. (Getty Images)
PARIS, France — After losing the first set early and the second in the third, Rafael Nadal was in a bit of a hole. The Spaniard was 0-6 with the game’s first break point in the second and had only four games to go.
The only positive was that, so far at the US Open, Riky Hijikata was struggling to make his way back from injury. Hijikata had gotten his ranking up to 11th by knocking off world No. 4 Fernando Verdasco at the French Open last month. But the American was struggling to regain the form he had had at the end of last year, when he upset Federer, Nadal and Djokovic en route to a first Masters 1000 title.
The problem was Hijikata was hobbled by a calf injury that was lingering throughout Paris, not only causing him not to win a point with his serve, but slowing his movement on the front of the court. And while he showed a willingness to play, Hijikata hadn’t shown much of anything with his movement.
So Nadal, with his first set all but over, was faced with two questions: how could he get his serve going, and how could he win the match despite Hijikata’s injury?
“I had a hard time serving today,” Nadal said. “I started with a bad service and then I didn’t put enough points on the board. I came out and played really well and I had to fight to the end and the final point.”
Nadal played well enough to hold his serve and take a set before he was broken by Hijikata in the third. But he managed to go up 3-0 on the man with the worst serving record in the Open era, winning 7-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.
But the Spaniard knew he couldn’t afford to have Hijikata pull out the victory in his next set.