Rinky Hijikata holds his nerve to make it three Aussie men in the last eight at the Brisbane International
Alex de Minaur’s words are resonating with Rinky Hijikata, who wants to break through ceilings and “stick it to them” too.
The 22-year-old literally rolled up his sleeves to become the third man into the Brisbane International quarter-finals.
He edged Czech Tomas Machac 5-7 6-2 7-6 (7-4) on Thursday, the day after countryman de Minaur beat world No.1 Novak Djokovic in Perth’s United Cup quarter-final.
Hijikata joined Jordan Thompson and James Duckworth in Brisbane’s last eight.
Alexei Popyrin was unlucky not to be there too, the world No.40 unable to convert any of five match points before losing on Wednesday.
The Rink skates into the quarters
— Brisbane International (@BrisbaneTennis) January 4, 2024
They are among a group of 10 Australian men who will sit inside the world’s top 111 when rankings are next calculated.
Hijikata served for the first set only to be broken twice and lose it, before rallying from 0-40 to hold serve in momentum-swinging games in the second and third sets.
He then channelled de Minaur in a faultless, pressure-filled tiebreak to reach his second ATP quarter-final and follow up last year’s US Open fourth-round appearance.
“He’s a big reason why we have so many Aussies in the top hundred at the moment,” Hijikata, who beat compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis in the first round, said of the 24-year-old de Minaur.
“What he said after the (Djokovic) match, how he’s been written off his whole career, people have put a ceiling on him, always had doubts about his game, how far he could get.
“A lot of us have always kind of had a ceiling put on us.
“How he’s been able to stick it to all the people that have said that about him is really cool.”
Hijikata soaked up the humid conditions, constantly pulling up his sleeves and channelling the crowd in the see-sawing contest.
“The bigger the crowd, the more people are watching, the bigger the moment, I feel like I really enjoy that,” he said.
“That’s what I really get up for.
“I’m never going to shy away from a big moment.
“That’s why I picked up a racquet in the first place.”
Hijikata will meet resurgent second seed Grigor Dimitrov for a spot in his second career semi-final, with the Bulgarian too good for Germany’s Daniel Altmaier 6-1 6-2.
Earlier on Thursday, Thompson sealed his quarter-final berth without lifting a finger after French fourth seed Ugo Humbert withdrew.
The pair were set to duel on Thursday afternoon before Humbert, reportedly struggling with a bout of gastro, pulled out.
World No.55 Thompson’s free pass led to a quarter-final showdown with the great Rafael Nadal, who was merciless in ousting another Australian, Jason Kubler, 6-1 6-2 in the feature night match.