Karen Khachanov beginning to make waves

Published by Matt Trollope

Karen Khachanov in action at the China Open in Beijing; Getty Images
At a career-high ranking and and pushing the top players increasingly hard, Russia’s Karen Khachanov could claim his biggest scalp yet when he faces top seed Juan Martin del Potro at the China Open.

With Marin Cilic turning 30 years old last week, there are no longer any active players under that age with a Grand Slam title to their name. It’s a stat Karen Khachanov is well aware of.

“We have to try to change it, the younger guys,” Karen Khachanov told Tennismash at the China Open.

“I agree that the previous generation, they were like winning Grand Slam at a younger age, but it was different time, different game, different speed of the courts, so different game in general. It’s tough really to compare the past time and right now.

“Right now the top guys – I’m saying top four for example, the Big Four – they play really good tennis, and they manage (to be) still beating us. So I think hopefully matter of time that we can approach and slowly going deeper in the big tournaments, in Grand Slams.”

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The strapping Russian knows a thing or two about just how good that group of players is.

He has battled each member of the Big Four and the three other active Grand Slam champions on tour – Cilic, Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro – and is yet to beat any of them.

But he’s getting closer all the time.

In recent weeks he has risen to a career high ranking of No.24 – having begun the season at No.45 – on the back of several impressive showings on tour, most notably during the summer hard court swing through North America. He reached his first ATP Masters semifinal in Toronto, where he pushed Rafael Nadal in two tight sets. Then came third-round finishes in Cincinnati (where he extended Cilic to three sets) and Flushing Meadows, where again Nadal stopped him – but not before a bruising four-set slugfest at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Prior to that he reached back-to-back fourth rounds at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, where he was taken down by Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic respectively.

On one hand, he will be disappointed with his 1-9 record against top-10 opponents in 2018. But on the other, there is pride in the knowledge it is taking the very best players in the game to stop him each week.

“All matches that I played on the big tournaments against top guys and I had good level. So I’m really happy with that,” he said.

“So the next thing I think is to win these kind of matches. I think the main thing is to maintain the level, the intensity, the mental aspect – mentally that I stay there, I try, I’m pushing myself and I believe that I can win these matches.

“I think one of the main things is of course to believe and that the belief can give you the game. But of course you need to practice – practice makes perfect right? So you need to practice in the right way and to improve the things and then when you go on court you have to believe that you can win. So that’s how I see the confidence inside yourself.”

Khachanov has taken this confident approach into Beijing, where he began his China Open campaign on Monday with a 6-4 6-4 win over American Sam Querrey.

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The 22-year-old has won two ATP 250 titles in his career, the most recent being at the French indoor event in Marseille in February. Beijing is a 500 event, headlined by No.1 seed and recent US Open finalist del Potro – Khachanov’s next opponent in the Chinese capital.

But despite no history of success – yet – at this level of tournament, Khachanov said he entered the draw nevertheless thinking he can win the whole thing.

“I think you have to think big, of course,” he said. “You have to come to the tournament and to think you really can do it and you really can go deep inside and win the tournament. Otherwise, if you don’t have this goal, then maybe better not to come.

“But then of course, one match at a time. You focus on different guys, different matches, different story, different scenario, different approach to every player. Then you have to focus just match-by-match.”

A win over del Potro, his favourite player growing up, would push him into the quarterfinals and closer to the top 20.

“Right now (the goal is) to finish as high as possible. If I can finish top 20 and higher, would be great,” he said.

“(The goal) was something like that (at the start of the season) and I think the better you do, higher you aim and you want to achieve even better. Long-term goals are to be the best and to try to achieve this. And I think short-term goal like I am doing now.

“I’m happy that I have now career-high ranking and I’m just looking forward to be higher, to work for that, and to try to improve with my team, day-by-day, what I’m doing now.”

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