Aussie wildcard Rinky Hijikata's dream run at the US Open has continued after a historic win against China's Zhizhen Zhang. On the same day comeback queen Caroline Wozniacki kept her own fairytale run going with victory over Jennifer Brady, the 22-year-old Hijikata's 6-3 6-3 4-6 6-3 victory over Zhang saw him reach the fourth round of a grand slam for the first time in his career.
Hijikata - who shot to fame back home after combining with compatriot Jason Kubler to win this year's Australian Open doubles title - overcame a third set fight back from Zhang to progress to the next round in New York. The spirited Aussie's reward for his career-first feat is a daunting fourth round showdown against local hope and 10th seed Frances Tiafoe on Monday (AEST).
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The Aussie has vindicated the decision by Tennis Australia to grant him a wildcard to compete at the US Open but few could have predicted how well the World No.110 would perform at Flushing Meadows. clubbing winners off both wings, Hijikata had Zhang under the pump from the start of the contest.
Have a moment, Rinky Hijikata.
He's into Round 4 of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career. pic.twitter.com/9IqZcGs6le
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 1, 2023
The Chinese player's previous two five-set marathons - one a stunning upset victory over seventh seed and 2022 Open runner-up Casper Ruud - clearly took their toll on Zhang as Hijikata cashed in. Zhang had to fight off eight break points in the first two sets but Hijikata wouldn't be denied, blasting to a two-set lead with three service breaks as Zheng struggled to cope with the Australian's firepower.
Bravely bidding to become the first Chinese man in the 56-year open era to make the last 16 of a grand slam, Zheng overcame two medical timeouts for a back issue to force a third set. However, Hijikata upped the ante and gained two decisive breaks in the fourth set before sealing victory with his 12th ace. The Aussie is now set to jump to No.80 in the world rankings.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) September 1, 2023
— Carolina Men's Tennis 🐏🎾 (@carolinatennis) September 1, 2023
Rinky Hijikata is into the US Open last 16. What an effort! He has beaten ZhiZhen Zhang 63 63 46 63. Rinky will move to about 80 in the live rankings.
— Craig Gabriel (@crosscourt1) September 1, 2023
In only his second ever grand slam main draw, 🇦🇺 Rinky Hijikata is through to the second week at the #USOpen
Defeated Zhang Zhizhen in the third round, 6-3 6-3 4-6 6-3.
Big next match against Frances Tiafoe. pic.twitter.com/VSs9J8ZQFC
— Lachlan McKirdy (@LMcKirdy7) September 1, 2023
A big moment in the career of Rinky #Hijikata, who reaches the second week of a grand slam for the first time with a four set win over Zhizhen #Zhang. That books a clash with top American Frances #Tiafoe on a long weekend in the US. He will be up to 80 or so in the world. https://t.co/cVnc1jeSc1
— Courtney Walsh (@walshcee) September 1, 2023
Congratulations Rinky!!! What a fighter! 💪
— Sylvia (@Syl2802) September 1, 2023
American trio advance to fourth round
Joining the Aussie in the fourth round is America's Tommy Paul, who slammed down 15 aces and got broken just once during a 6-1 6-0 3-6 6-3 win over No.21 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Paul's compatriot Ben Shelton also advanced after defeating Aslan Karatsev of Russia 6-4 3-6 6-2 6-0 with the help of 26 aces.
Hijikata's next opponent, Tiafoe, booked his spot in the fourth round with a 4-6 6-2 6-3 7-6 (8-6) winner against No.22 Adrian Mannarino of France. Switzerland's Dominic Stricker also went through by beating Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi 2-6 7-5 7-6 (7-4) 3-6 6-2.
Caroline Wozniacki keeps dream run alive
In the women's draw, Wozniacki rallied to defeat Brady 4-6 6-3 6-1 in her first grand slam and just third tournament since returning to tennis after the birth of her second child. The two-time US Open finalist put on a show against Brady, showing more fitness and a little less competitive rust after winning 11 of 12 games having dropped the opening set against the injury plagued American - who was only featuring in her fourth tournament since returning.
"Honestly, not really (smiling)," Wozniacki responded when asked if she was surprised by her level at a tournament where she first reached the fourth round as a teenager in 2008.
"I guess I always had the belief in myself. It takes a little time just to get back into the match rhythm. All of that I knew, knowing what I've experienced throughout my career, I knew where I was at.
"Obviously day by day I feel like I'm getting a little bit better. Would I have been surprised had I lost in the first round? No. Would I be surprised if I keep winning? Also no."
Wozniacki's next match will be a blockbuster showdown against American sixth seed Coco Gauff, who stormed back after dropping the first set against Elise Mertens to book her place in the last-16. The 19-year-old dished out a 'bagel' to the Belgium in a brutal deciding set, winning the third round contest 3-6, 6-3, 6-0.
Elsewhere, World No.1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek sent a brutal statement to her rivals, with a crushing 6-0 6-1 win against 'best friend' Kaja Juvan of Slovenia. The Pole - who went to dinner with her opponent last week in New York - dropped just eight points as she raced away with the first set to love in only 33 minutes. Juvan did at least avoid the dreaded 'double-bagel' and drew a rousing response from the crowd when she finally got on the board.
Karolina Muchova also moved into the fourth round with a 7-6 (7-0) 6-3 victory over Taylor Townsend. She next faces Xinyu Wang of China, a 4-6 6-3 6-2 winner over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia.
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