Rinky Hijikata Talks Michael Jordan, His Golf Rookie and More | ATP Tour

Hijikata Lynch was one of the breakout stars at the U.S. Open, advancing to the fourth round at a major for the first time.

Former North Carolina player Tal Hill has had special moments at Flushing Meadows in the past, including his debut last year when he faced Rafael Nadal and won a set against the Spaniard. The reigning Australian Open doubles champion (with Jason Kübler) will seek to reach the Grand Slam singles quarter-finals for the first time on Sunday when he takes on 2022 semifinalist Frances Tiafoe.

Hijikata, who has never been ranked in the world’s top 100 before, has risen to a career-high No. 81 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. ATPTour.com caught up with the 22-year-old earlier this summer to get to know him better off the court.

If you could have dinner with any three people, who would they be? Why?
Not so sure. Maybe Dan Carter, he’s a New Zealand rugby player who I really enjoy watching. He was probably one of my favorite athletes growing up. Maybe Barack Obama, who I think is a cool guy, throws some politics into it. And then I’m not really sure, maybe stick with sports and Michael Jordan. There is a UNC connection there.

How old is he and still in school?
Obviously he’s an absolute icon. He may be one of the best athletes to ever play at the University of North Carolina. We have a rich sporting history with many people going on to have successful careers. Yeah, it’s pretty cool to have him as a symbol of what you can accomplish after you leave UNC. I think he was a big part of the culture there.

If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would you choose?
This is a difficult task. Maybe Novak, Federer or Nadal are in their prime. I think just to be able to feel what they’re feeling on the court. They make it look easy. So maybe I can do some things on the court that I normally can’t do.

Is there a race you wish you could have been at?
Any Grand Slam finale they win. They created many classics, Rafa won his first Wimbledon title, Federer defeated Rafa at the 2017 Australian Open, and then Novak defeated Federer after trailing on match point in Wimbledon. I think any of those games would be cool to experience.

What is something that fans might not know about you?
I think the fact that I went to college is well documented, but I’m currently studying for a business degree. I want to finish it at some point. So maybe it’s something people don’t know beforehand.

What’s the cool thing you’ve done as a tennis player off the court?
I’ve been able to play some really nice golf courses through my tennis connections, which is pretty cool. I think it was a hobby I picked up a few years ago and I loved playing, so it was a cool thing to do.

Is this one of your hobbies while touring?
My coach loves golf and is an incredible golfer. He’s a budding golfer so we’re looking forward to playing as much as we can and it’s good to take your mind off tennis and relax.

What are your current obstacles?
Ah, I’ll be there. I am not very good. I need to improve a lot. This is frustrating because I feel like tennis players are supposed to be really good at golf, but apparently that’s not the case in my case. I need to get better. I love playing ball and I want to get better.

What’s the coolest perk you get as a tennis player?
You get really lucky with the people you meet and I think getting tickets to sporting events and stuff like that or just going to the golf course and stuff like that is pretty cool. The athletes you meet from other sports or people from other industries are really cool, but I’m still kind of new to this.

This job allows you to travel frequently. If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
I feel like I’ve been to a lot of places, but I’ve always wanted to go safari, somewhere in Africa. So that’s on the wish list.

If there was a competition there, I would be excited to attend. Even if not, I would like to go on vacation.

What was the moment on tour where you pinched me?
Probably a pair from last year. It was my first full game, and after my first tour-level win, I started playing against Medvedev, who was No. 1 in the world at the time, so that was cool, a very special moment. And then playing Rafa against Arthur Ashe in my first Grand Slam main draw was a welcome welcome to the big stage moment.

It was a moment that made me a little nervous, but I had to get out of it pretty quickly.

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Did you look around when you walked out?
I did look around. I was there once a few years ago when John Millman played Djokovic. I was like, Oh my gosh, how cool would it be to be able to play on this court in front of a sold-out crowd? When I walked out there, I gave myself a moment to look around, soak it in, really try for a second or two to appreciate how cool it was, and then try to focus on the game.

I was playing in the juniors and I think I had just quit playing and he had just beaten Federer in that match. I was lucky that he was a great sport and gave me and my coach tickets to his game against Djokovic. This was my first time watching a game on Ashe and it was something I had never experienced before.

It’s extra large. It’s much bigger than any other tennis court or any tennis court I’ve ever been to. I watched Philippe Chatrier and Rod Laver play at the Wyndham Center and it felt like the venue was twice the size.

If you could achieve one thing, what would it be?
Likely to win Wimbledon. I think it’s everybody’s dream when they pick up a racket, I think it’s the tournament every player wants to win. I think this would be a race I would love to win.

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