Player Features

Hijikata On Michael Jordan, His Budding Golf Game & More

Get to know the breakthrough Australian
September 03, 2023
Rinky Hijikata is into the second week of a major for the first time.
Al Bello/Getty Images
Rinky Hijikata is into the second week of a major for the first time. By Andrew Eichenholz

Rinky Hijikata has been one of the breakthrough stars of the US Open, advancing to the fourth round at a major for the first time.

The former North Carolina Tarheel has enjoyed special moments at Flushing Meadows in the past, including his debut last year when he played Rafael Nadal and won a set against the Spaniard. The reigning Australian Open doubles champion (w/Jason Kubler) will try to make his maiden Slam singles quarter-final when he faces 2022 semi-finalist Frances Tiafoe on Sunday.

Having never previously cracked the world's Top 100, Hijikata is up to a career-high No. 81 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. spoke to the 22-year-old earlier this North American summer to get to know him better off the court.

If you could have dinner with any three people who would they be and why?
Not too sure. Maybe Dan Carter, who is a New Zealand rugby player, and I really liked watching him play. He was probably one of my favourite athletes growing up. Maybe Barack Obama, I feel like he's a pretty cool guy, so get some politics in there. And then I'm not I'm not too sure, maybe stick to sport and Michael Jordan. UNC connection there.

How big is he still at school?
Obviously he's an absolute icon. He's probably one of if not the best athletes ever come out of UNC. We have a rich history of sport and a lot of people having success in their professional careers. Yeah, just having him as kind of a symbol of what you can achieve after you've left UNC is pretty cool. And I think he's a huge part of the culture there.


If you could switch places with one person for a day who would it be?
That's a tough one. Maybe Novak or Federer or Nadal in their prime. I feel like just to kind of be able to feel how they feel on the court. They make it look so easy. So maybe I'd be able to do some things on the court that I can't normally do.

Any particular match you wish you could have been the guy who played it for that reason?
Any of those Slam finals they've won. They've had a bunch of classics, when Rafa won his first Wimbledon, Federer beating Rafa at the Aussie Open in 2017, and then Novak beating Federer at Wimby from match points down. I feel like any one of those matches would be pretty cool to experience.

What is something fans might not know about you?
I think it's pretty well documented that I went to college, but I'm halfway through a business degree at the moment. I'd like to finish it at some point. So maybe that's something that people didn't know beforehand. 

What's something cool you've done off the court because of being a tennis player?
I've been able to play some pretty sweet golf courses just through kind of connections in tennis, which is pretty cool. I guess it's kind of a hobby of mine that I picked up a few years ago and I like playing so that's a pretty cool thing.

Is that one of your hobbies on tour?
My coach is huge into golf, he's an unbelievable golfer. He's a scratch golfer, so we look forward to playing whenever we can and it's kind of a good thing to get your head away from tennis and to just kind of wind down.

What's your current handicap?
Ah, I'd be up there. I'm not very good. I need to improve a lot. It's frustrating because I feel like tennis players should be pretty good at golf, but obviously not the case with me. I need to get better. I enjoy playing and I want to get better.

What's the coolest perk you've had from being a tennis player?
You get pretty lucky with the people you meet and I guess getting tickets to sporting events and stuff or just getting on golf courses, some stuff like that is pretty cool. The athletes you meet from other sports or people in other industries that you get to meet is pretty cool, but I'm still kind of new to it.

You get to travel with this job a lot. If you could visit one place, where would it be?
I feel like I've been to a lot of places, but I've always wanted to go on safari and somewhere in Africa. So that's on the bucket list.

If there's a tournament somewhere out there, then I'd be pumped to play. Even if not, I'd love to go just for a vacation.

What was your pinch-me moment on Tour?
Probably a couple last year. It was my first full year playing and getting to play Medvedev after getting my first ever tour-level win, he was No. 1 in the world at the time, that was pretty cool, a pretty special moment. And then playing Rafa on Arthur Ashe in my first ever Grand Slam main draw match, that's kind of a big welcome to the big stage kind of moment.

That was a bit of a pinch-me moment but had to snap out of it pretty quickly.

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Did you look around when you walked out?
I definitely looked around. I'd been out there once before when John Millman played Djokovic a few years ago. And I was like, Geez, how cool would it be to play on this court in front of a packed house? And I gave myself a little moment when I walked out there to just kind of look around and soak it all in and really try to appreciate for a second or two how cool it was and then try to focus on the match.

I was playing juniors at the time, I think I was just out of the tournament and he'd just beaten Federer at that tournament. And I was lucky enough, he was a great sport and gave my coach and I tickets to his match against Djokovic. It was my first time watching a match on Ashe and it was something like I've never experienced.

It's huge. It's way bigger than any other tennis stadium, or any one that I've ever been to. I've watched matches at Wimby on Centre Court and Phillippe Chatrier and Rod Laver and it feels like it's twice as big.

If you could achieve one thing, what would it be?
Probably win Wimbledon. I think that's everyone's dream when you pick up a racquet, I feel like that's the tournament every player wants to win. I guess that would be the one that I'd love to win.

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