Khachanov creates history downing Djokovic

 - Alex Sharp

The 22-year-old navigated past the newly-crowned world No.1 to lift his first Masters 1000 title in Paris.

12 months ago Karen Khachanov was preparing to contend in the inaugural NextGen ATP Finals.

Fast forward a year and the towering Russian is a Masters 1000 champion.

Heading into the Rolex Paris Masters the talk was dominated by the race for the No.1 ranking between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, or could Roger Federer claim his 100th career title? 

However, with pulsating power, a Russian name was stamped onto the trophy once again in Bercy. 

Karen crowns season in style

This wasn’t any ordinary week from the 22-year-old. 

Khachanov clinched a fourth ATP title by prevailing past four Top 10 players in succession. John Isner, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Djokovic all fell to the loss of just a single set.

The Russian saved his most accomplished display to the last, overpowering Djokovic 7-5, 6-4 in the final.  “It's one of my biggest titles so far, biggest achievement. And in general, it's a breakthrough season,” stated Khachanov. “This title, it's a good year-end, like this I would say. And maybe I'm not crying, but still I'm really happy.

Following in Safin’s footsteps

With resemblance in height and power, Khachanov is frequently compared to his tennis idol Marat Safin.

The gregarious Russian ruled in Bercy from 2002, 2002 and 2004 alongside their countryman Nikolay Davydenko in 2006. 

I'm just really proud of myself,” said the Rolex Paris Masters champion. “That I could be in this list of winners with the other best tennis players on this trophy.”

Checkmate from Khachanov

In his spare time away from court, Khachanov is an accomplished chess player. Utilising his patience and mental fortitude in battle on the board, the 22-year-old is illustrating the essential qualities to excel at the top of tennis.

Djokovic seamlessly struck a 3-1 break lead in Sunday’s final, before Khachanov clicked into gear with a devastating period of 10 consecutive points to his name. He overcame the early setback and certainly didn’t wilt as a frontrunner. 

He catapulted blistering forehands to claim quick one-two strike points, his defence kept Djokovic at bay and despite his 6’6 frame, Khachanov cut away a series of astute volleys en route to the net. 

It appears his mental strength is matching a rapidly developing game and imposing power.

Praise from the best 

He's a young player up and coming. But already established player, top player. He deserves it,” hailed Djokovic in press in Paris.

He showed great quality today and he showed why we're going to see a lot of him in the future. He was playing big from the back of the court. Flat backhands and forehand. He can really hurt you. That's a big weapon. And serve. I mean, serve is really, really strong and precise. So, his overall game was really, really great all week.

Familiar face sparks memorable year

In 2014 Khachanov halted a three-year partnership with Goran Ivanisevic’s former coach Vedran Martin.

Well, the duo rejoined forces for the 2018 campaign which has launched the Russian from No.48 to a career-high No.11 in the rankings. 

Martin has unlocked a remarkable consistency to compliment the all-court artillery of his pupil.

For example, Khachanov has matched or beaten his best at the Grand Slams in 2018, reaching the second round in Melbourne, with impressive fourth round showings in Paris and Wimbledon, before capping his Major year in an epic third round encounter with Rafael Nadal at the US Open. 

After some tough loses against top guys like Rafa in New York, I think they push me to the limit and even to work more harder. And I saw that my level is there. I could play and compete on this level,” continued the 22-year-old.  “So, it was a matter of just a few points. And if I continue to do the same things what I was doing and the way I was playing with the guys like Rafa and Novak also, against top guys, it would bring me at one point and it will turn around on my side. So, I was really believing in this, and actually that's what I've got.

The NextGen continues to rise

Five players who qualified for the 2017 NextGen ATP Finals have stood out with extremely strong seasons.

Khachanov joins Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev and Borna Coric to finish inside of the world Top 20. 

Djokovic, Nadal and Federer might still be collecting Major honours, but Khachanov’s Parisian excellence proves the Next Gen are primed to push the established guard in 2019.