It’s the ultimate David versus Goliath battle and Rinky Hijikata is only too happy to play the underdog role against Rafael Nadal in his long-awaited US Open debut.
As fate would have it, the Australian wildcard has been pitted against the most successful men’s grand slam combatant of all time for his maiden main-draw match at a grand slam.
Many would call it a nightmare, but Hijikata calls it a dream draw after the marquee first-round encounter was scheduled for centre court on Tuesday night (11am Wednesday AEST).
“I mean, when you’re a kid you grow up wanting to play on the biggest stages in the world against the best players and what better stage to play Rafa on than Arthur Ashe Stadium,” Hijikata told AAP.
“I’m just very excited for the match.”
On paper, it’s a mismatch – a 21-year-old world No.198 handed his grand slam debut as a Tennis Australia-picked wildcard against a 22-times major winner.
Hijikata, though, believes he can spring one of the greatest boilovers in tennis history.
“I wouldn’t be a tennis player and be going out for these matches if I didn’t think I had a shot to win,” he said.
“I know it’s going to take an unbelievable effort. I know he’s accomplished everything he has for a reason but, in sport in general, there’s no point in going out into a match-up if you don’t believe you’re a shot.
“That’s just setting you up for failure. So, yeah, I’m going to go in believing I can have a red-hot crack. I’m going to leave it all out there.”
Anything less won’t be enough against an opponent unbeaten in 19 grand slam outings in 2022.
Nadal, the reigning Australian Open and French Open champion, has played just once since pulling out of his scheduled Wimbledon semi-final with Nick Kyrgios with a torn abdominal muscle.
But Hijikata won’t be lulled into any false sense of security.
“Rafa’s Rafa, it’s going to be tough any time you play him,” the rookie said.
“Every time he steps out onto the court, he’s going to give 150 per cent and everyone knows that, everyone’s seen it before.
“So I don’t think it really matters if he hasn’t played too many matches. I still think he’s going to be unbelievably good.
“He’s not going to come out on court if he’s not going to give it his best effort.”
It’s a smart approach.
Nadal himself said he’d been feeling better and better each day since falling in three sets to eventual champion Borna Coric in Cincinnati.
“I’m quite happy the way that I am playing,” said the Open’s second seed.
“I played sets every day for the last five days. That helps, of course.”