© Peter Staples for ATP Tour

Novak Djokovic gets creative against Karen Khachanov in the Roland Garros quarter-finals.

Djokovic Weathers Khachanov Storm To Secure Roland Garros SF Spot

Two-time champion will play top seed Alcaraz or Tsitsipas next

Novak Djokovic’s 2023 Roland Garros blueprint: Hang tough in the face of a quick start from your opponent, raise your level at key moments to assume control, and accelerate away to victory.

It was more of the same on Tuesday in Paris as the third seed braved an early barrage from Karen Khachanov before sealing an ultimately comfortable 4-6, 7-6(0), 6-2, 6-4 quarter-final triumph at the clay-court major. Djokovic did not earn a break point in the opening two sets but raised his level spectacularly from the second-set tie-break onwards on Court Philippe-Chatrier to seal a three-hour, 38-minute win.

“I think he was the better player for most of the [first] two sets,” said Djokovic in his on-court interview. “I was struggling to find my rhythm. I made a lot of unforced errors and came into the match quite slow, quite sluggish. But I played the perfect [second-set] tie-break, really, and from that moment I played a couple of levels higher than I did at the beginning.

“[There was] a little bit of a scare towards the end of the fourth set, but I managed to win eight points in a row to finish it off. It’s a big fight. It’s something that you expect in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam. You’re not going to have your victories handed over to you. You’ve got to earn them, so I’m just glad to overcome the big challenge of today.”

Djokovic’s opponent in the final four will be Carlos Alcaraz or fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Serbian can replace Alcaraz as No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings by lifting a record 23rd major title this fortnight in Paris.

The victory was another demonstration of Djokovic’s ability to stay the course in best-of-five matches. He was taken to early tie-breaks by both Marton Fucsovics in the second round and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the third round before prevailing in straight sets, and he saved his best tennis for the latter stages again on Tuesday against Khachanov.

Djokovic dialled in behind his groundstrokes and frequently deployed his drop shot, which became increasingly effective at nullifying Khachanov’s power. The two-time Roland Garros champion converted four of his eight break points across the third and fourth sets, and finished the match having outhit his 11th-seeded opponent by 57 winners to 38 overall.

“I guess sometimes it works really well, sometimes it doesn’t,” said Djokovic, when asked about his use of the drop shot. “But against a player like Karen, who is very aggressive and has a big serve but maybe doesn’t move as well, I tried to expose him. I tried to play quite unpredicatably for him. A lot of drop shots, change the length and so forth.

“It worked in the end. It was a big fight. It always is, I have a lot of respect for Karen. He’s a great fighter, a great player, and I wish him all the best for the rest of the year.”

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Khachanov earlier made a fast start to his bid for a second ATP Head2Head victory against Djokovic in 10 attempts. The 27-year-old, who was chasing his third straight major semi-final, was rock-solid on serve and became the first player to win a set against Djokovic in the tournament through a solitary break in the fifth game of the opener.

Then came the turning point of the match. A similarly tight second set that featured no break points for either player ended with a comprehensive tie-break display from Djokovic. The way the Serbian raised his level set the tone for the rest of the match and his 7/0 win improved his tie-break record in 2023 to 14-4. That tally includes a 5-0 record across his Roland Garros run so far.

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Now fired up on return, Djokovic’s clean ballstriking earned him two breaks of serve in each of the third and fourth sets en route to victory. When Khachanov threatened to rally, Djokovic’s response was immediate. He unleashed a stunning forehand winner to save the first of two break points at 2-1 and reeled off eight points in a row to seal his victory, a disappointing end for Khachanov after he had broken Djokovic in the previous game to level the fourth set at 4-4.

Did You Know?
Djokovic is attempting to reach the seventh final from his past eight Grand Slam outings and claim his sixth major title during that stretch.

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