Djokovic v Khachanov: Things we learned

 - Dan Imhoff

Serbian two-time champion lifts to see off 11th seed’s early threat

Novak Djokovic, quarts de finale, Roland-Garros 2023©Julien Crosnier / FFT

Outclassed and out of sorts for the best part of two hours, Novak Djokovic has turned the screws on Karen Khachanov to reach his 12th Roland-Garros semi-final.

An early scare was no cause for alarm bells for the third seed as he reeled in No.11 seed Khachanov 4-6, 7-6(0), 6-2, 6-4.

Khachanov breaks the trend

Djokovic put in an imperious display in his fourth-round domination of Peruvian Juan Pablo Varillas.

It was his most polished outing of the week and an ominous warning for the remainder of the field after his declaration it was the best he had felt since his 10th Australian Open title in January.

While Alejandro Davidovich Fokina acquitted himself well two rounds prior, still no player had managed to steal a set from the Serbian in this campaign.

A brass band in the stands broke into the Imperial March from Star Wars when a rock-solid Khachanov snared the early break for 3-2 after an 11-minute tussle.

This was the 27-year-old competing at the peak of his powers and he sustained the advantage with a bellow of “c’mon” upon sealing the set.

Emperor strikes back

As the match ticked over two hours, the third seed was determined not to let Khachanov dictate on his terms any longer.

Still Djokovic had not summoned a break point but as the pair headed to a tiebreak, he flicked the switch, raised the tempo and strung together a flawless seven points on the trot to level the match.

It proved a telling blow to Khachanov’s hopes and he was broken for the first time at the beginning of the third.

Barring a lapse in which he surrendered the break back for 4-all in the fourth set, Djokovic was never ceded again.

Victory at the three-hour, 38-minute marked lifted his record to 9-1 against his foe and was his 90th match win at Roland-Garros – more than at any other Slam.

“Against players like Karen – he has a big serve, maybe doesn’t move as well – I tried to expose him, make it unpredictable for him,” Djokovic said. “It worked in the end. It was a big fight – it always is with Karen. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a great fighter, a great player.”

Novak Djokovic Roland-Garros 2023 1/4 de finale©Philippe Montigny / FFT

Next step on major stage eludes Khachanov

A newfound consistency had the 27-year-old in the mix for a third straight semi-final following the past two hard-court majors.

Khachanov knew this was a considerable step up and his only chance to break new ground in Paris was to take it the 22-time major champion.

For two sets he barely put a foot wrong.

Karen Khachanov, Roland-Garros 2023, quarter-final© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Having last ventured this far at Roland-Garros four years ago, he was not without his chances but departed Court Philippe-Chatrier with a glaring statistic.

He has not beaten a top-five opponent at a major in nine attempts.

While his run ground to a halt, Khachanov ensured a return to the top 10 for the first time since October 2019 on Monday.

"There are no regrets. Yeah, another good performance in a Grand Slam," Khachanov said. "I have been saying for a few years that my goal was to return to top 10. It's not the ultimate goal, but still, it's good to have it. Going back home, to be honest, with my head high."

Tough test hardens Djokovic for semi-final

The Serbian awaits the winner of top seed Carlos Alcaraz or fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas for the chance to contest his seventh Roland-Garros final.

While unbeaten against Tsitsipas at the majors, Djokovic was pushed in a five-set final in Paris two years ago.

He is yet to face Alcaraz on a Grand Slam stage but feels his four-set scrap with Khachanov will steel him for whoever comes next.

“These kind of wins, I think, serve as a great confidence booster mentally, so also physically and emotionally for me,” he said. “It's important to win a match where you were losing or you were being down and then you came back and won a match. Especially at the latter stages of a Grand Slam against the top players.”