Australian Hijikata, who plays Tiafoe at US Open, stands as obstacle to Americans’ Grand Slam hopes


NEW YORK (AP) — Rinky Hijikata knows what he’s facing at the U.S. Open, and it’s more than just Frances Tiafoe.

The Australian’s deepest run at a major tournament has positioned him as the only obstacle standing between the U.S. and a guaranteed spot in the men’s semifinals. Unless Hijikata wins his next two matches, the Americans’ hopes of ending a 20-year Grand Slam drought will be alive deep into the second week.

So Hijikata knows what to expect from the fans Sunday when he faces the 10th-seeded Tiafoe, and if he gets past that, against the winner of the all-American matchup between No. 14 Tommy Paul and Ben Shelton in the quarterfinals.

“They won’t be for me, that’s for sure,” Hijikata said with a smile, “but I’ll still try to enjoy it as much as I can.”

In just his third Grand Slam tournament, the 22-year-old already has played on Arthur Ashe Stadium. He faced Rafael Nadal in the first round in 2021, losing in four sets, so he’s aware of the atmosphere in the biggest arena.

But it will be different against Tiafoe, a semifinalist last year who has become one of the most popular players in Flushing Meadows and takes every opportunity to urge the fans to get louder.

“He’s a great athlete,” Hijikata said. “He’s got a great serve and he’s kind of one of the few guys that are the faces of American tennis at the moment, which is really exciting for this country, and I’m sure they’ll be getting behind him.”

An American man hasn’t won a Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick’s victory at the 2003 U.S. Open. Tiafoe made a good run at ending the dry spell last year before falling to eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz. With No. 9 Taylor Fritz also still alive in the bottom half of the draw, the Americans have four men in the fourth round of the U.S. Open for the first time since 2011.

Hijikata played college tennis at North Carolina, where he was an All-American before turning pro. He said playing Sunday will be like some of the rowdy road atmospheres he experienced with the Tar Heels.

“Well, South Carolina, that was tough,” Hijikata said. “Pretty hostile there, a lot of chirping, a lot of bickering behind the court, and we managed to get away with a win there and it was one of my favorite memories playing college tennis. So, hopefully I can draw on kind of experiences like that.”

Of course, there will be many thousands more fans chirping at his next match.

Hijikata’s idols were fellow Australian Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 U.S. Open champion, and with Japanese in his heritage, Kei Nishikori, the 2014 runner-up. He hopes to put up the kind of fight those players were known for.

Hijikata had the crowd on his side in January, when he and countryman Jason Kubler won the Australian Open doubles title.

He won’t Sunday against Tiafoe.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge and I know I’m going to have to play well to make him uncomfortable,” Hijikata said, “but I’ll see what I can do.”


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