Player Features

Khachanov Ahead Of Zhuhai SF With Korda: 'It's Tough To Find His Weakness'

Both players have endured injuries this year
September 24, 2023
Karen Khachanov is the top seed at the ATP 250 event in Zhuhai.
Huafa Properties Zhuhai Championships
Karen Khachanov is the top seed at the ATP 250 event in Zhuhai. By Courtney Walsh

Trailing a set and gasping for breath after several lung-busting rallies against Mackenzie McDonald, Karen Khachanov posed to soak in the Zhuhai applause on Sunday. The competitiveness of his 4-6 6-4 6-4 triumph over McDonald and the crowd’s response throughout their Huafa Properties Zhuhai Championships quarter-final delighted him.

It is these experiences the World No. 15 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings missed the most during his absence from the Tour following a semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros.

“I was missing the energy of the crowd. Here today, it was almost full, and I always enjoy playing in front of people in full stadiums, so I was really missing it,” Khachanov said. “I am mentally ready. I had a kind of unexpected vacation and now I'm motivated, determined, excited to be back playing and trying to bring on this game again.”

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The top seed will next experience a similar challenge and atmosphere when he meets American Sebastian Korda in Monday’s semi-finals. It will be the fifth Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting between the pair. If their history and recent form in Zhuhai is a guide, it shapes as an intriguing clash in a tournament resplendent with exciting matches.

The 27-year-old Khachanov edged Korda in a thrilling five-set encounter at Wimbledon in 2021 and was leading their Australian Open quarter-final this year when the American retired due to injury. Korda, who claimed his second victory in as many months over Tomas Martin Etcheverry 6- 1 6-2 in Sunday’s quarter-finals, defeated Khachanov in Cincinnati and Antwerp last year.

Khachanov and Korda have experienced similar seasons, playing at a high level at times only to be stricken with significant injuries when within range of career-best achievements. Khachanov said his rival, who hopes to break into the Top 20 by the end of the season, is an astute tactician who dissects matches well when at the peak of his game.

“When he is on and he brings his flat shots and his A-game, he has a really, really great perspective and is a tough opponent,” Khachanov said. “He serves well. He moves well. He returns well. It is tough to find a weakness. But that is what I will have to look for tomorrow against him.”

Korda, who is also in the doubles semi-finals alongside McDonald, has loved his first trip to China and is revelling on the quick courts at the Hengqin International Tennis Center.

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“We’ve had some good matches so far. I am sure tomorrow will be another good, fun match,” Korda said. “We have a 2-2 record so far, so it is a big one for us. A spot in the final is where we want to be and I am very excited for it.”

Khachanov, who returned to the Top 10 briefly in June and resumed with an opening-round loss at the US Open, has enjoyed a busy week since his arrival in Zhuhai. Aside from his victories over Alex Bolt and McDonald, the father-of-two participated in a school visit and has also offered advice to talented young Chinese players.

The angular right-hander said he enjoyed mixing with young people and hoped that he might be able to provide an insight or example that could help their careers.

“It was really, really cool. I have two kids now as well and I think if I can inspire more kids around the world, I'm just really happy to be able to deliver and to do it,” Khachanov said. “I think that's most important. The next generation, they like to see tennis on the court… but it is not only about winning or losing.

“It is the way you act, being polite, these things are the most important. If I can deliver this and be… not an idol, but a person they can look to, I would be very happy."

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