Melbourne, Australia, 5 December 2023 | Dan Imhoff

In only his second season on tour, 22-year-old Rinky Hijikata became a Grand Slam champion and posted huge climbs up the rankings in singles and doubles.

Hijikata began his season qualifying for Adelaide 1 before making good on a wildcard at the Australian Open, where he notched his first Grand Slam main draw singles win, beating German Yannick Hanfmann from two sets down before falling to eventual finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Few could have foreseen the success he was about to carve out on the doubles court with fellow Australian Jason Kubler.

In their first tournament together, the unseeded wildcard pairing brought down the sixth, first and eighth-seeded duos en route to the final. There, they saw off Hugo Nys and Jan Zielinski in straight sets to become the second consecutive all-Australian champions at their home event.

“I think honestly we would have lost first or second round had we not had the support we did,” Hijikata said of the home crowd. “We got through I think very close matches, the first three matches.

“We were getting chopped in the second one. The third one I think we were down a set and 4-2, down match point also.”

“Just having so many people behind you, it’s hard not to get up for it. It’s hard not to kind of back yourself in the moment, really enjoy it. This is what you play for, being able to play a home Slam. There’s nothing better.”

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Hijikata rode that wave of success to win his second Challenger title immediately after in Burnie, before he reached the Delray Beach final across the Pacific alongside American Reese Stalder.

The Sydneysider cracked the top 100 in singles when, as a lucky loser, he reached his first ATP semifinal in s-Hertogenbosch on grass before he fell to fellow Aussie Jordan Thompson in June.

His other big singles highlight for 2023 came with a fourth-round run at the US Open, where as a wildcard he downed three higher-ranked opponents before falling to 10th seed Frances Tiafoe. The result ensured he broke into the top 70 in singles for the first time.

Returning to North Carolina, where he played college tennis for the UNC Tar Heels men’s team from 2020-2021, Hijikata reached the singles final and won the doubles with countryman Andrew Harris at the Cary 2 Challenger event before the ATP’s Asian swing brought more success in doubles.

He reached the Shanghai Masters semifinals with Cameron Norrie and followed it up with a title run in Tokyo alongside compatriot Max Purcell in October, a result which elevated him inside the top 25.

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Hijikata reunited with Kubler at the ATP Finals in Turin, where he made history as the youngest doubles player to qualify for the season-ending championships in 28 years.

“There’s a really good vibe around the tournament and (we’re) honoured to be part of it,” said Hijikata.

“It’s a pretty sick atmosphere here, (with) a lot of people coming out for the doubles. It’s definitely pretty cool to be here. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year.”

A previous two-time Male Junior Athlete of the Year, this is Hijikata’s first Newcombe Medal nomination.

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