Rafael Nadal survived an opening-match scare on Tuesday to keep his 2022 Grand Slam season record spotless with a win into the US Open second round.
The four-time champion won a dozen matches in a row starting in the French Open first round.
That run ended when he handed in a walkover to Nick Kyrgios in their Wimbledon semi-final (due an abdominal injury) and was beaten in his first test back when he went out in Cincinnati this month.
Nadal came from behind in his Open first round to overcome 21-year-old Australian wild card Rinky Hijikata 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.
But the win was hard-fought, with the outsider saving four match points as he served in the fourth set, frustrating Nadal in a mega-game.
The Spaniard finally ended the cat-and-mouse tactics with a stretching forehand winner down the line to end the contest after three and a quarter hours under the roof of the Ashe show court with wet weather threatening outside courts.
A pink-shirted Nadal admitted he had something of a narrow escape as he played here for the first time since 2019.
“Three years away, it’s a long time. There were times when I thought I might not be back here.
“I played only one match in 50 days (Cincinnati loss). It’s time now to be humble and do positive things in practice.
“This was a long match against a tough opponent. It was a moment to survive and accept how things are happening.”
The Aussie youngster was making his debut on the big stage at a major and ran into one of the toughest opponents imaginable.
Nadal takes the second seeding here while teenaged compatriot Carlos Alcaraz is third. Both have chances to earn the top ATP ranking depending on New York results.
Each has earned an ATP-leading four titles this season; Nadal improved to 20-0 in Grand Slam matches in 2022, with titles at the Australian Open and Roland Garros and a semi-final at Wimbledon (he handed in a walkover to Nick Kyrgios due to his injury.