21-year-old Australian Rinky Hijikata has continued his impressive 2022 season, claiming his sixth career pro singles title at the ITF 25K Bakersfield Tennis Open in California.
Hijikata produced an impressive 6-1, 7-5 victory over American Keegan Smith in the final to lift the trophy.
"Obviously I’m over the moon. It's not often you get to hold up the trophy on Sunday. I’m really stoked and happy with how I performed and competed this week," Hijikata told The First Serve.
It's the fourth title Hijikata has won in the US, where he has spent a large chunk of the last three years representing the University of North Carolina.
"I really like the US hard courts. I think the conditions are great for me. I’ve spent a lot of time over here with college and I just feel comfortable over here. I'm used to the US conditions and I feel very at home here. Whenever I get the chance to come back and play here I'll definitely take the opportunity," Hijikata exclaimed.
After an impressive Australian summer of tennis where he qualified for his maiden ATP Tour main draw and claimed his maiden Top 100 win, the Sydneysider made the difficult decision to end his college career, electing to rather compete on the tour.
"I decided to leave college at the start of this semester. It was a really difficult choice for me because I absolutely love it there. I love my teammates, love my coaches and I still go back whenever I can to train and see all the boys there," Hijikata explained.
"This is my first full year playing on the tour. I didn’t really have too many expectations coming into this year, I just wanted to see how far I could go, see how far I could push myself. As long as I’m competing week in week out and staying healthy, that’s the main goal. I’m keen to push myself."
Despite his playing days at the University of North Carolina coming to a close, Hijikata still sees the college as a second home and a base in the US.
"It's massive for me because as an Australian it's pretty tough because you’re so far away from home. It’s not easy to just fly home for a few weeks like a lot of the other players can do. Just having a base here is massive. When I’m there it really does feel like home so it's kind of like my second home. I feel very comfortable there and I just love being there, so whenever I need a little mental refresh or just to get a few weeks of training in, I think it's been unbelievable for me," Hijikata stated.
The title in Bakersfield will see Hijikata rise inside the top 300 of the ATP Rankings for the first time, currently sitting at a live career-high ranking of no. 272.
"It's always good to know that your hard work’s paid off, especially after the pre-season that we had in Sydney. I really thought that I'd made some big leaps in my game and physically as well, so just to see the rewards I’m reaping now, it's definitely a confidence booster. I’m looking forward to just pushing forward and hopefully keep winning matches," Hijikata said.
With a spot in the French Open or Wimbledon qualifying draw in his sights, the Aussie hopes to compete in more ATP Challenger tournaments, which will help him achieve that goal.
"The plan at the moment is just to try to start playing a lot more Challengers. I’m hoping the ranking will start getting me into a few more main draws. You want to play the bigger tournaments and the better guys, that's my goal for now. If I can make a push for either the French Open or Wimbledon qualifying, that's a big goal of mine at the moment."
A spot in Wimbledon qualifying particularly would be a dream come true for Hijikata, who dreams of one day gracing the courts of The All England Club.
"I love playing on the grass. As an Australian, I feel like we're all pretty comfortable on it so that's a big advantage. It’d be unbelievable to play at Wimbledon, I feel like it's every tennis player's dream. But I feel like I have to stay focused on one week at a time and not get too ahead of myself. I think it’ll take care of itself if I do that."