Djokovic aces Khachanov test: Things we learned

 - Dan Imhoff

Top-seeded Serb passes sternest challenge yet to thwart 15th seed and extend record over Nadal

Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros 2020, fourth round©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Warning signals sounded with each passing round as Novak Djokovic swept all before him – court included – before his latest ill-fated opponent, Karen Khachanov, fell on Monday.

While the world No.1 delivered masterful performances through his first three matches, none carried the weight of his 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory over the Russian 15th seed on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Here are the key takeaways from the Serb’s first genuine test at Roland-Garros in 2020.

Djokovic still holds one over Nadal on clay

It is rare to find Djokovic ahead of the man who owns almost every significant benchmark on the red dirt, but the defeat of Khachanov extended the Serb’s record run to 11 straight Roland-Garros quarter-finals.

While he and Rafael Nadal have now reached 14 career quarter-finals each in Paris, the Spaniard has only strung together six of them in a row.

To recall Djokovic’s most recent defeat before the last eight in Paris requires a deep dig back to the third round in 2009. It was German Philipp Kohlschreiber who claimed the honours that day.

US Open rematch on the cards

Following the Serb’s shock disqualification from his fourth-round US Open clash with Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, there was justifiably a heart-in-mouth moment on Court Philippe-Chatrier during Monday’s match when Djokovic’s return ricocheted off his outstretched racquet. While the ball did hit the baseline line judge there was no intent and no harm done. Still, it made for a nervous split second.

“My gosh, it was very awkward déjà vu,” Djokovic said. “I'm actually trying to find the lines person and see if he's OK because I saw he had a little bit of a bruise, like redness, in that place in the head where the ball hit him… It has happened to me and to many other players in the last 15 years that I've been on the tour.”

Djokovic will have a chance to finish what he set out to do in the fourth round in New York should the No.17 seed Carreno Busta defeat Daniel Altmaier to lock in a rematch in the quarter-finals.

Novak's forehand is firing

Following his straight-sets thrashing at the hands of the world No.1 in the previous round, unheralded Colombian Daniel Elahi Galan revealed what it was like to face someone of the Serb’s calibre for the first time.

He admitted studying footage of Djokovic did not do justice to the depth and pace of shot coming at him. “Seriously I felt like he was a rocket every time he was hitting his forehand,” Galan said.

Khachanov owns a victory over the world No.1 in the French capital – albeit in the Paris Masters final, on a faster indoor court, in a best-of-three-set contest – but this was a markedly more important showdown and their first on clay.

While he managed to register twice the number of games as each of Djokovic’s opening three victims, like Galan, he could do little to stem the flow of forehand rockets hurtling past. Djokovic finished with 23 forehand winners to the Russian’s 11.

Sometimes your best still isn't enough

Khachanov spoke of feeling confident ahead of this fourth-round tussle and it showed throughout the opening set, as both saw the ball like a watermelon through the first eight games. The problem was sustaining such an exceptional level just to stay with the world No.1.

The 1.98m Muscovite – who landed his breakthrough Grand Slam quarter-final at Roland-Garros last year – worked overtime to peg back a break as Djokovic served for the opening set. It made him the first player all tournament to take more than three games off the 2016 champion in a set, but his efforts were brought undone when he double-faulted to surrender it a game later.

A flicker of hope was sparked when the 24-year-old reeled off three straight games from 0-2 down in the third set on a howl of “Allez”. It was the first time he had nudged his nose in front and ultimately the last. It was the first time this event Djokovic had lost three games on the trot and just the awakening he needed to kick back into gear and book his 47th Grand Slam quarter-final berth.

Karen Khachanov, Roland Garros 2020, fourth round© Julien Crosnier/FFT