Rafa Nadal wins first-ever U.S. Open match in Flushing Meadows

Rafael Nadal drops first set but rallies to defeat Rinky Hijikata at US Open

(CNN) — Rafa Nadal put on a clinic at the U.S. Open on Thursday, winning his first-ever match in his hometown with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Rinky Hijikata, who lost his opening match at the event in 2012.

Nadal won in a third-round match for the first time since his last Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2008. He also is the first player to win a title at the U.S. Open, which will host the first-ever Grand Slam in 2017. Nadal is the first Spaniard to win a major at the U.S. Open since Ferrer won in 1982.

Before his victory, Nadal said he didn’t expect to face a player as experienced as Hijikata, who made his Grand Slam debut in 2005 at Flushing Meadows.

“Today I was pretty calm, looking to take it from the top,” Nadal said. “Sometimes I don’t have the opportunities to play on the best grass courts, but I thought I would do the same today.”

Nadal has been the top-ranked player in the world for the past year and a half. He defeated Novak Djokovic for the first time at the Australian Open in January, then defeated Djokovic again at the French Open last month and Hijikata in the semifinals at London in March. Hijikata also has one year left on his current contract with WTA.

The 38-year-old Hijikata played all four sets and had two match points, but couldn’t convert them both.

“This match was a match to remember,” Nadal said. “This is the first time I played a match like this on the biggest occasion.”

Nadal didn’t dominate Hijikata in any of the four sets they played, but he had an opportunity to break his opponent when the American sent a forehand long on his second match point. That was the cue for Nadal to seal the victory when his long ball returned with a forehand long of his

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