Khachanov keeps the faith ahead of Djokovic duel

 - Alex Sharp

Russian defeated the world No.1 in Paris, two years ago in the final of the Paris Rolex Masters.

Karen Khachanov, Roland Garros 2020, third round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Could it be the toughest test in men’s tennis right now?

Karen Khachanov has featured at Roland-Garros the past four editions and has made the second week on all four trips.

On Saturday, the world No.16 out-muscled Chilean charge Cristian Garin 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 off the back of 32 winners.

Now it’s crunch time for Khachanov; time to take on the top seed Novak Djokovic.

“A lot of things. I think first of all, to try to maintain the level needed for the most time possible. I think the most important thing for me to stay steady, to believe in myself, to believe in the game that I'm playing,” stated Khachanov, revealing his approach for facing the 2016 champion.

“He's playing good on all surfaces. He proved it many times. I'm just taking it one match at a time, try to show my best. I will fight for sure every point.”

The 24-year-old unleashed his sledgehammer shots to great effect by blasting away Djokovic 7-5, 6-4 at the Paris Rolex Masters in 2018. 

Of course, that clash was on an indoor hard court, but there are aspects that Khachanov can harness on Monday.

“Every new match is a new challenge, new opportunity. Maybe mentally you know that you beat him in this particular match, for sure it gives you the confidence inside to know that you've done it already once at least,” explained the Russian, relishing the occasion.

“That's the only thing that might help on a mental preparation to be ready for whatever happens. At the end of the day to enjoy this moment. We're in the fourth round. Match by match winning. As deeper you go as tougher opponents you face. This is what it's all about.”

It’s been a staggered set of results for the 24-year-old in an already peculiar season. 

2020 started well, with four straight wins at the ATP Cup in Russian colours, before losing a five-set thriller to Nick Kyrgios at the Australian Open. Khachanov then won three matches in three events without kicking on prior to the lockdown.

Back in action in the States, a straight-sets triumph over Pablo Carreno Busta at the relocated Cincinnati Masters evoked his quarantine training endeavours had done the trick.

His Cincinnati quest finished at the third hurdle, as did his US Open campaign. An opening round five-set cracker with Italian Next Gen star Jannik Sinner was soon erased by Alex de Minaur going the distance in the third round in New York.

Over to Europe for the truncated clay-court swing and Khachanov only chalked up one match-win across Rome and Hamburg.

However, in Paris the tone has changed. The towering 24-year-old is ready to grind, patiently waiting for his chance to strike.

He’s particularly caught the eye with his willingness to canvas the net, enjoying a 41 out of 72 success rate (57%) in his three matches thus far, which has been complemented by 129 winners scorching off his racquet.

Back in the groove and Khachanov is delighted to be back in familiar territory.

“Yeah, good to keep doing the consistency here in Paris. Whenever I come here I feel good, feeling that I need to work on the points, on the matches, just trying to be positive match by match. . It feels good to be in the second week of a slam this year,” added the Russian, who fell at the quarter-final stage to Dominic Thiem last year, representing his best Grand Slam showing to date.

“It's tough to answer exactly why is that. But you feel like a human being more energised, let's say, energy-wise you feel it's really good. You feel the atmosphere. Even though we don't have a crowd, like full crowd this year. Maybe the courts, the conditions also this year a little bit different but still suits me here in Paris.

“At the end of the day it's Grand Slam. For sure you try to put your best performance. I try to put my best performance every tournament, of course. But when it's coming to a slam, best-of-five sets, I think that's why it makes more special those kind of tournaments to play good, to win especially.

“I think I put everything together, my mind, mentality, game-wise. At the end of the day it's all about emotions and how you deal with them during every match.”