Nobody saw it coming. Before the Paris Masters 2018, all the talk was about the big three of men’s tennis – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. It was billed as a battle royal between Nadal and Djokovic for the world number 1 ranking. And some even hoped that this could also be the tournament where the Swiss Maestro would lift his 100th career title.
But then to the disappointment of all, Nadal withdrew. In fact, the first couple of days were less about the actual tennis and more about Rafael Nadal withdrawing at the last minute and its real and imaginary implications. The real implication was that it ascended Djokovic to world number 1, even before he hit a single ball on the court.
Some experts also lamented about how this late withdrawal had possibly denied the tennis fans of a Djokovic – Federer Final, as the seedings were done and draw was already out by the time Nadal decided to withdraw; so instead of being the top two seeds, they were now the second and third seeds and set to meet in a semifinal.
Then the next few days were dominated by the discussions of the superb tennis produced by the two legends of the game. Every victory by Roger and Novak was seen as a prelude to their ultimate clash in the semifinal. And when they finally met in the semifinal, the eyes of the entire world were on them. It’s almost as if there was only one semifinal!
The two legends did not disappoint. In fact, it will not be wrong to say that the Novak-Roger semifinal exceeded all expectations. It was arguably the best match of the year, outside of the Grand Slams. The fans and experts were thrilled to witness two of the greats of the game producing an instant classic. Many dubbed it as a de facto final.
The winner of the match was supposed to walk away with the trophy. The final was a mere formality. Of course, the little-known Russian would put up a fight, but would ultimately go down to the soon-to-be world number 1, Novak Djokovic!
But the little known Russian had other plans. He was ready to gatecrash Djokovic’s party. He did exactly that on the indoor hard-court of Paris. No-one saw it coming. Maybe we should have.
Coming into the final, Karen Khachanov had defeated three top-10 players in his last three matches, John Isner, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, the latter two rather easily, in straight sets. He was serving well, ripping those powerful forehands, and even coming to the net and volleying well.
He did all of that against Novak, and needed just two sets to defeat a man who had defeated him in their only previous encounter rather easily and was on a 22-match winning streak!
But this victory is no fluke. This is Karen Khachanov’s breakout year. The Paris Masters is his first Masters title, but his third indoor hard court title of the year.
He has always had powerful weapons – booming serve and great forehand. In the course of this tournament, he seems to have added another potent weapon to his armoury – self-belief.
Is he going to be the next great tennis star? He already is a great player. And he certainly has what it takes to develop into one of the biggest tennis stars on the planet in the next few years.Published 04 Nov 2018, 23:50 IST