Khachanov ready for "hammer" time

 - Alex Sharp

Russian takes on 2018 runner-up Thiem in his first ever major quarter-final.

Karen Khachanov© Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Falling to his knees, arms aloft, it was pretty obvious how much it meant to Karen Khachanov.

The towering Russian had just dispatched 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro to earn a maiden Grand Slam quarter-final at Roland-Garros.

"That's what I'm working for, to live moments like this," said Khachanov, the first Russian into the last eight at Roland-Garros since Mikhail Youzhny in 2010. “I would say it is my best (Grand Slam) match. When you win matches like this, you're just happy. You're just happy for all the efforts that you have done before, for all the matches that you played. You're just thankful for a team and family, so thinking about that."

It is all happening for the 23-year-old, with his wife due to give birth to their first child in September, while his current run in Paris will ensure a top-10 debut in the rankings on Monday.

Last November in this city, Khachanov blasted through a incredible quartet of opponents to lift the Rolex Paris Masters trophy. John Isner, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic were all bulldozed by Khachanov’s extensive artillery, and his first Masters 1000 title intensified expectations.

However, it’s been mixed fortunes since then for the Russian. A concoction of changing racquets (he ultimately returned to using Wilson), a virus in February and a dip in form meant Khachanov arrived at Roland-Garros off the back of a 10-12 season record, and just 3-6 since Indian Wells.

Karen Khachanov© Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

A third-round finish at the Australian Open and a quarter-final spot at Indian Wells suggest the 10th seed hasn’t stalled too much, but he then fell to opening-match defeats on the clay at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and then Munich, part of a five-match losing streak.

Posting a third-round showing in Rome boosted his clay-court credentials before arriving in a city in which he clearly adores playing.

Alongside his Paris Masters title, Khachanov has also advanced to the second week in all three of his main-draw appearances at Roland-Garros. The world No.11 stormed into the fourth round to meet the devastating force of Del Potro.

Similarly to the Argentine, Khachanov has a sledgehammer forehand. “When the hammer is working," he said, "that is good news for me.”

He also possesses rapid movement belying his 6’6” frame and is developing his versatility with extra punch on his volleys.

The 23-year-old enjoyed a 22/27 success rate at net against Del Potro and will need all his armoury in fine fettle when he takes on Thiem in the quarter-finals.

Khachanov dismissed Thiem with ease in Bercy last Autumn, but the Austrian has the patience and know-how at Roland-Garros as a finalist in 2018 and semi-finalist the previous two years.

The Parisians took a shine to the Russian following his scintillating victory over Del Potro, chanting ‘Karen, Karen.’

“I would say I’m comfortable here, I have great energy here, with good atmospheres, people like me,” he noted.

It’s time for Karen to bring the power of the ‘hammer’.