Khachanov Charges Into Maiden Masters 1000 Final
Karen Khachanov has enjoyed the best season of his young career in 2018, and now you can argue that this has been his best week. The Russian defeated sixth seed Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-1 on Saturday in just 71 minutes at the Rolex Paris Masters to reach his maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final.
Entering the tournament, the 22-year-old held just a 3-16 record against opponents inside the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings. But Khachanov has earned three victories against the elite group this week alone, defeating World No. 9 John Isner, No. 5 Alexander Zverev and now No. 8 Thiem.
"What I’m happy about is that each match I think I was increasing the level. That shows that I’m improving in my consistency, I’m becoming a better player, playing from the beginning of the tournament better and better, so that’s a good thing," Khachanov said. "In this match I think it was really intense the first couple of games and then at 4-4 when it more pressure was coming, I could break him, and then I took the lead."
Khachanov had won four matches at Masters 1000 events before this season began. The Russian No. 2 now has 15 match wins at this level this year, including a trip to the semi-finals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Khachanov has also won two ATP World Tour titles in 2018 with triumphs at the Open 13 Provence and the VTB Kremlin Cup.
"I think especially the second part of the year I’m playing really my best tennis. I’m having the best season, so far," Khachanov said. "I’m confident and I’m in the final, so I’m really happy about it."
It was the first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting between Khachanov and Thiem, two of the biggest hitters on the ATP World Tour. But throughout the match, it was Khachanov who controlled the baseline, landing his heavy groundstrokes deep in the court to push the Austrian back and control the baseline. The Russian also did well to use angles to force Thiem to go for low-percentage shots from awkward positions.
That showed in the statistics, as Khachanov broke Thiem in his final five service games of the match. Entering the week, Thiem was eighth on the ATP World Tour in service games won on hard courts in 2018, claiming 87.9 per cent of those games according to Infosys ATP Scores & Stats.
"He played a great match for sure. Put me under big pressure from the first ball, actually," Thiem said. "I have to give all the credit to Karen. He was serving well and returning well, and didn't let me really get into the rally. That's what I would have needed, so he was making everything right today."
Khachanov will try to lift the biggest trophy of his career against four-time champion Novak Djokovic or 2011 titlist Roger Federer on Sunday. He broke into Top 20 of ATP Rankings on 22 October and reached a new career-best of No. 18 this week. But if the 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals competitor wins the title, Khachanov will soar to No. 11.
"Let’s see," Khachanov said. "I’m enjoying being on court here in Paris. It’s really nice, a lot of people come and support you, so any scenario is good for me."
Did You Know?
Khachanov has been impressive on return in two consecutive matches against Top 10 players. Against Thiem, the Russian won 51 per cent (28/55) of return points, and in the quarter-finals against Zverev, he captured 56 per cent (38/68) of return points.