With his surprisingly one-sided victory over Dominic Thiem in the semi-final of Paris Masters 2018, Karen Khachanov booked his place in his first Masters final. The victory over Thiem was the third straight win over a top 10 player by the Russian world number 18!
After a tough round of 16 victory over big-serving John Isner, Khachanov annihilated world number 5 Alexander Zverev in the quarter-final. Even though Zverev was suffering from a minor niggle, the maturity and focus shown by the young Russian in that match belied his age. But it was in his semifinal match against Thiem that he truly produced a masterclass – by far his most dominating performance in the tournament.
In the first four games, both Thiem and Khachanov matched each other shot for shot. But Khachanov broke Thiem and then served out the first set. The beginning of the second set saw them breaking each other’s serve. But from then on, it was Khachanov all the way.
Thiem did his best to counter Khachanov’s deep and powerful strokes through his usual style of staying behind the baseline to give himself time, but Khachanov’s level was insurmountable for the world number eight Austrian in the last five games of the match.
This is Khachanov’s first Masters 1000 final, and he is going to face one of the legends of the game in Novak Djokovic. But he is a confident young man and most likely, will not be overawed by the occasion. He will also draw confidence from the fact that both his titles this year have come in indoor hard court tournaments – at Marseille and Moscow.
He is the kind of player whose game style of strong serve and forehand suits hard courts, especially indoor hard courts. But can he achieve a fourth straight victory over a top-10 player, and not just any top 10 player, but someone who is going to be crowned the world number 1 the day after the final, irrespective of the outcome?
But like Khachanov, Djokovic happens to be quite comfortable in hard court tournaments. His record in the Paris Masters itself is a testament to his domination on this surface. He will be buoyed by his semifinal win over the great Roger Federer that has taken his head to head record to 25-22 against the Swiss maestro.
It was a match that lived up to the hype – an instant classic. Even though his service initially was a notch below his best, he still managed to beat a rejuvenated Federer who was serving at a much higher level in this match.
He will be especially proud of the resolve that he showed after losing his serve in the twelfth game to surrender the second set. That was the only time that either player had managed to break the other’s serve.
Federer did well to win the first game of the deciding set, after being two break points down. That was a crucial juncture of the match. A break there would have made it very difficult for him to come back. After that, both players continued to hold their serves, and the deciding set went to a tie-breaker which Djokovic won.
Safe in the knowledge that the number one rank will be his, he is likely going to be quite relaxed, though extremely focused at the same time. He would surely not like his return to the number one ranking to be marked by a loss – that too to a player outside the top 15!
In their only previous encounter, Djokovic had defeated Khachanov rather easily in straight sets at Wimbledon this year. But the level at which Khachanov is operating now, as was seen from his terrific display of both power and precision in the previous three matches against top 10 players, his ranking certainly does not do him justice. So, it will be a mistake on Djokovic’s part if he takes this match lightly.
But Novak is not the kind of player whose focus would waver even for a moment, regardless of the reputation or lack thereof, of the player on the other side of the net. History beckons both the veteran and the young gun.
So, will it be a first Masters 1000 title for Khachanov or a record-equalling 33rd Masters title for the soon-to-be number 1? At the moment, it is the 31-year-old Serbian who seems to have the weapons and experience to lift the trophy in Paris.
Prediction: Djokovic to win in 2 SetsPublished 04 Nov 2018, 02:04 IST