Rinky Hijikata’s breakout US Open run has come to an abrupt end with a straight-sets fourth-round beating at the hands of 10th seed Frances Tiafoe.
A semi-finalist last year, Tiafoe charged to within a victory of another last-four showing in New York with an impressive 6-4 6-1 6-4 victory over the Australian wildcard.
Hijikata’s service speed was noticeably down from his previous three rounds, with Tiafoe having little trouble picking it off and breaking the 22-year-old six times during the two-hour encounter.
Utterly dominant, the American conceded only 13 points on his own serve in setting up a quarter-final with unseeded countryman Ben Shelton, who had earlier beaten Tommy Paul in four sets.
“It means a lot,” Tiafoe said.
“He’s been quietly going through the draw and I’ve never played him before so I was definitely feeling him out in the beginning.
“When I broke there in the first (set), I really took off there for a while. At the end I got a bit sloppy.
“But I’m just happy to get through and into a quarter-final at the Open.”
Hijikata’s foray to the last 16 at a grand slam for the first time earned the Sydneysider $US284,000 ($A440,000) and a rankings boost from No.110 in the world to a career-high 81st.
That puts Hijikata in line for a direct entry to the Australian Open in January and gives Australia nine men in the top 100 even without the injured Nick Kyrgios.
Only powerhouses the USA (11) and France (11) have more.
“It’s been pretty cool to see how all the other Aussie guys and girls have been supporting me and each other,” Hijikata said.
“We’ve got a really good group of guys at the moment. I feel like we are all pushing each other to get better.”
Hijikata’s exit leaves world No.13 Alex de Minaur as Australia’s last remaining singles hope at Flushing Meadows.
De Minaur plays third-seeded 2021 US Open champion Daniil Medvedev on Tuesday (AEST) for a place in the quarter-finals.
He has credited his tennis-playing girlfriend Katie Boulter for providing a fresh perspective as the Australian prepares for a high-stakes US Open showdown with Daniil Medvedev.
De Minaur and third-seeded Medvedev will clash for a quarter-final berth on Tuesday (AEST) just three weeks after the Spain-based Sydneysider took down the Russian en route to his maiden ATP Masters 1000 final in Toronto.
That quarter-final triumph in Canada was de Minaur’s fourth top-10 scalp of the year and came 10 months after he also beat Medvedev, the 2021 US Open champion and former world No.1, for the first time in Paris.
One of the most intense competitors on tour, de Minaur says it’s no coincidence his tennis is thriving alongside a happy off-court relationship.
The 24-year-old has been dating Brit Boulter since 2020 and the two have become one of tennis’s power couples, with both making runs in New York.
De Minaur reckons his partner has taught him not to take defeats too heavily, something he’s struggled with in the past.
“A big thing that I admire a lot about Katie is how she acts and how she gets herself up during matches,” he said after Boulter bowed out in the third round at Flushing Meadows.
“Her philosophy is something that I envy in a way. She is very positive. She doesn’t take tennis matches for granted.
“She doesn’t mind the results. She goes out there competing and enjoys herself. I’ve learned a lot from that.
“To be honest, I’m probably on the other spectrum. I live and die by the sword and matches do hurt me in ways.
“Over the years, I’ve learned that as much as it hurts in the moment, I can get off the court and the more I spend some time with Katie, we’re both able to kind of forget about it and move on.
“And it’s helped me a lot to not have to linger with some of these matches. I’ve been able to turn the page and move on and look forward to the next challenge.”
De Minaur’s next challenge is a big one.
As well as denying Novak Djokovic the first calendar-year grand slam sweep with a brutal straight-sets mauling in the final two years ago in New York, the Russian also pushed Rafael Nadal to five sets in the 2019 title decider.
Medvedev is unquestionably one of the most formidable hard-court players in the business.
“He’s an extreme kind of counter puncher, a defensive specialist who finds ways to bait opponents into playing the game style he wants,” de Minaur said.
“He’s an extremely good tactician and you know whenever you play him you have got to be ready for an absolute chess battle.”
While drawing confidence from his two wins over the world No.3, de Minaur is unsure if they will have an impact on Medvedev in a best-of-five-set tussle. “I haven’t played him in a major yet,” the Australian said.
“So this is going to be a new experience for both of us. If anything, it’s just going to be a long match. I’m sure there’s going to be chances both ways. It’s about who just sticks around and fights to the end and finds a way. I am expecting an absolute battle.”
The winner will face either unseeded Brit Jack Draper or Russian world No.8 Andrey Rublev for a semi-final spot.
Teenager Coco Gauff has ended Caroline Wozniacki’s US Open comeback with a 6-3 3-6 6-1 victory to reach the quarter-finals.
Wozniacki, who returned to Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2019 after coming out of retirement following the birth of her two children, kept sixth seed Gauff on her toes for two sets but the Dane’s lack of match practice caught up with her and she ran out of steam.
The 19-year-old Gauff represents one of the United States’ brightest hopes at the year’s final major and she beat an opponent 14 years her senior by producing 33 winners.
She next plays the winner of a late-night affair between Polish world No.1 Iga Swiatek and Latvian 20th seed Jelena Ostapenko.
Gauff has been playing the best tennis of her career this season, picking up titles in Washington and Cincinnati, and refused to let herself be rattled as she handed Wozniacki a break with an unforced error in the first game of the match.
She levelled the contest in the fourth game and broke the 2018 Australian Open champion to love in the eighth, as the Dane struggled with her first serve and could not match Gauff’s firepower.
But Gauff lost her edge completely in the second set, where the mistakes piled up and she was forced to defend five break points across her first three service games.
She helped Wozniacki to the break in the eighth game with a pair of double faults and appeared irritated with members of her coaching staff.
Gauff handed her opponent another break in the opening game of the third set when she whacked a backhand into the net but broke back in the next game.
The 2022 Roland Garros finalist ran away with the momentum from there, cheering triumphantly as she forced Wozniacki into a backhand error on match point.
Karolina Muchova reached the quarter-finals with a 6-3 5-7 6-1 victory over China’s Wang Xinyu.
For the Czech No.10 seed, a 2021 Australian Open semi-finalist, Sunday’s win marked her deepest run at Flushing Meadows.
She did it after losing control of the second set to her Chinese opponent, before regaining her dominance in the third with a strong all-court attack that included 32 winners.
“I came back to my game, to slice it more and to change the rhythm – that was the key,” Muchova, 27, said in her post-match interview.
Muchova’s next opponent is the No.30 seed Sorana Cirstea, who beat the Swiss No.15 seed Belinda Bencic to reach the quarter-finals of a grand slam for the first time since 2009.
The 33-year-old Romanian, who has already put out No.4 seed and 2022 Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina, beat the Olympic champion 6-3 6-3.
“Unfortunately in tennis, not all the work you’ve put in is always rewarded,” said Cirstea. “So it’s nice to work hard and also get the reward.
“Sooner or later if you put in the hard work, it comes.”