Rafael Nadal debuted at the US Open in 2003 at the age of 17 years and two months. A budding teenager knocked out world number 61 Fernando Vicente in straight sets to celebrate his first win in New York and become the sixth-youngest player to win the US Open.
Nineteen years later, Nadal was still among the best players in the world at last year’s US Open, entering the draw as the No. 2 seed and four-time champion. Rafa began his 16th campaign at the US Open with a victory with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 win over Australian Rinky Hijikata in three hours and eight minutes.
In this way, Nadal achieved victory at the US Open 19 years after the first, following Roger Federer’s record. It was Nadal’s second match after his withdrawal from Wimbledon, with a hesitant start but taking control from the second set.
The Spaniard lost serve once in the first set and defended three break points in the third to keep up the pressure on the other side. The world number 198 had an excellent start against one of the best players in history. Even so, he could not maintain that level from the second set and hit the starting gate.
Nadal broke Rinky five times out of ten chances and advanced to the second round for the 16th time in as many trips to New York. The opening set was tight, offering only one break chance in the seventh game. Rinky broke Rafa at 30 with a winner into the net.
The Australian served well in all five service games and clinched the first set with a powerful serve at 5-4 after 44 minutes. Nadal started again with everything in the second set and achieved four comfortable serving turns.
Hijikata couldn’t keep up with that pace and lost serve twice. The Spaniard got his first break in the second game after a loose forehand from his rival.
Horacio Zeballos comments on Nadal
Doubles specialist Horacio Zeballos reckons Rafael Nadal ending his career could be due to more mental issues than physical ones.
“If it is the end, it would be because of something more mental than physical. It is very difficult to say because he has surprised us many times with his ability to come back so well after injuries. I speak to you as a tennis fan more than from logic.
I hope he will be there this year because it is very nice to see him play,” he said. “Like Federer, like Djokovic, Nadal have shown that he can stop and come back with inhuman achievements. He gets injured and then wins, I don’t know, how many more Grand Slams.
Age does not help things to be the same as 10 years ago. Seems difficult for him to return to the top level he has shown for so many years, but he never ceases to amaze us. Let’s hope he comes back strongly,” he added.