Forehand Fear Factor: Coilin' Karen Leaves Opponents Snakebit
Karen Khachanov's backswing on his forehand looks like a serpent coiling to strike. It's big and menacing and his extreme wrist bend provides opponents with no clue where this venomous shot is going to bite them.
Djokovic at times looked exhausted from his three hour, three minute semi-final encounter with Roger Federer, and a week-long battle with the flu, but Khachanov still had to reach out and claim the biggest title of his career, with his unorthodox forehand being the driving force.
Khachanov Forehand Winners = 12
The most efficient strategy Khachanov employed to set up a forehand winner was to hit it as his first shot after a serve. He hit six Serve +1 forehand winners, with half rocketing past Djokovic's forehand wing and the other three directed to the backhand. The Russian also chipped in with a forehand return winner.
The other five forehand winners displayed the versatility of the 6'6" Russian's game. One was a standard groundstroke from the baseline, one was at the front of the court, another was an approach, and the other two were scintillating, on-the-run passing shots that brought the Parisian crowd to their feet and Djokovic to his knees.
Of the 13 forehand groundstroke errors Djokovic committed in the match, six came from a Khachanov forehand groundstroke, and one from a forehand return.
The backswing on Khachanov's forehand is extremely difficult to decipher any clues from as to what destination it will ultimately rocket towards, and his patterns of play are equally confounding.
Khachanov hit 41 per cent of his forehands to the outer third of the Ad court (to Djokovic's backhand), and 42 per cent to the outer third of the Deuce court, stretching Djokovic wide off the court to hit his own forehand. Only 17 per cent of Khachanov's forehands landed in the middle of the court. When Khachanov created time to wind up and crush a big forehand, it was simply unreadable for Djokovic to predict where it was going.
Khachanov was also far more likely to step forward to the ball on his forehand side to attack than off his backhand wing. The Russian made contact with 25 per cent of his forehands inside the baseline, but only managed to do that 11 per cent of the time on his backhand side.
Khachanov hit some blistering forehands in the match, but surprisingly he averaged hitting his forehand slower than Djokovic overall. The Russian would quite often add heavy spin with his extreme western grip to create a short angle and run Djokovic or hit it higher over the net with more shape to get the ball up out of the Serb's strike zone.
Average Rally Speed
- Khachanov = 113kph
- Djokovic = 120kph
- Khachanov = 108kph
- Djokovic = 111kph
Both players ended up hitting slightly more backhands than forehands for the match, but Khachanov was able to do more damage with his when he did get to hit it.
- Khachanov = 105 forehands / 121 backhands
- Djokovic = 109 forehands / 111 backhands
Djokovic took control of the match early in the first set, leading 3-1, 30-0 on serve, but inexplicably lost 10 straight points to lose all his early momentum. Khachanov's forehand had a lot to do with that purple patch, striking four forehand winners in the span of six points, with an additional two Djokovic groundstroke errors coming after a Khachanov forehand.
Khachanov's funky forehand technique may very well come with a "do not try this at home" label, but it was his weapon of choice that helped capture the biggest title of his career in Paris. He makes it work, and then some.
- Hawkeye data used in this story is courtesy ATP Media.
- Craig O’Shannessy is a member of Novak Djokovic’s coaching team.