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Hijikata: Aussies Are ‘Manufactured’ To Play Well On Grass

The Sydney native is a two-time ATP Challenger Tour champion
June 16, 2023
Rinky Hijikata in action at this week's Libema Open.
Libema Open
Rinky Hijikata in action at this week's Libema Open. By Grant Thompson

In his first tour-level grass tournament, Australian Rinky Hijikata is making a splash this week at the Libema Open. The 22-year-old advanced to his maiden tour-level semi-final Friday after defeating Mackenzie McDonald 5-7, 6-3, 6-1.

Hijikata, who received a lucky loser spot into the main draw, has rallied from a set down in each of his three matches this week in 's-Hertogenbosch to reach the last four. Despite the lack of pro experience on grass, Hijikata has fond memories playing on the surface.

“We used to have a 12s Nationals every year in Australia, it was in Mildura. That was actually the first national title I won,” Hijikata told last week at the Surbiton Challenger. “It was the under 12s and it was on grass. I have some good memories playing on this surface.

“I’m pretty comfortable on the grass. I think it’s my favourite surface, maybe either this or hard court. I really love playing on it and I think being Australian, we are pretty used to playing on the grass and all our games usually suit it pretty well. I think a lot of Aussies are manufactured in a way where their game kind of suits grass.”

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A two-time ATP Challenger Tour champion, Hijikata’s next opponent will be a familiar foe, countryman Jordan Thompson, who defeated him last week at the grass-court Surbiton Challenger. The 29-year-old Thompson will be aiming for a second appearance in the ‘s-Hertogenbosch title match (also 2019).

Hijikata has found early success since turning pro in 2021. A former standout at the University of North Carolina, he partnered countryman Jason Kubler to win the doubles title at their home Slam in January.

Hijikata then went from Melbourne to Burnie, Australia, where he went on a title run without dropping a set at the Challenger 75 event, the Caterpillar Burnie International.

Throughout his young career, Hijikata has soaked in lessons learned while being on the road.

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“The biggest challenge is probably just getting used to all the travel, playing week in and week out,” Hijikata said. “When you are a junior or in college, you kind of have blocks where you play a lot but then you have a fair bit of time off, it’s not this sort of continuous grind and I think that’s one thing to get used to.

“Also, just having the belief that you belong at a certain level. When you get to the Slams and the big Tour events, it can be a little bit daunting at first. Just building that self confidence and I feel like now I’m where I belong and not out of place.”

Should Hijikata defeat Thompson in the last four and reach the Libema Open final, the World No. 114 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings will approach one of his goals for 2023.

“I’d love to crack the Top 100, I feel like I have the level to do that and it’s just a matter of time,” Hijikata said. “I’ll just keep doing what I can and trying to improve and hopefully I can do that and then build further.”

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