Rafael Nadal drops first set but rallies to defeat Rinky Hijikata at US Open
It was the best kind of opening set victory. The kind of victory Rafa Nadal had never wanted, the kind he’d hoped was denied him at last summer’s US Open. He’d expected to be defeated, and he’d been. Not by the same opponent, but by a lesser opponent at a lesser tournament. In an opening set that would go on to shape his entire career, and would do more than that, Nadal would finally emerge as the man who could defeat the man he thought would defeat him again.
And it was a win Nadal had never believed was possible. But while it had been over 20 years, and even longer than that, since an American had beaten him on a hard court, this was also the first time since his defeat at Roland Garros to be followed by a victory on clay.
This would be the last set that would matter for Nadal in the tournament, as after he won the last two games of the opening set, the man who would win the third set at the last was none other than Nadal himself.
And in the midst of it all, as he came to the brink, just as he had so many times in the previous 20 years, Rafael Nadal found himself wondering if this was really happening.
And with it came the moment of truth.
It was his 15th career singles match, and it was the most he had won since the end of 2013. And with it came a new sense of belief.
“I still have it, it’s amazing,” Nadal told ESPN, describing the emotion that had run through him. “Obviously I always remember the first time I won at least [one] week after losing. It’s a great feeling of joy and I never forget [that feeling]. Today I was more excited than happy. I knew I had more to live for.”
But of course what it meant now was that with his 15th win in a row, Nadal would become the 20th player to reach the same milestone, tying Roger Federer for the most career wins in the Open era.
And with it came a new sense of