After an encouraging first week at Wimbledon, three-time former champion Novak Djokovic will look to press his case as a contender against the big-hitting Russian Karen Khachanov. Djokovic’s form has been improving since he reunited with long-time coach Marian Vajda and though he is not yet at the peak of his powers, he is once again looking a formidable opponent. But Khachanov has the power to trouble anyone. Who will come out on top?
Djokovic and Khachanov have never met before on Tour. But the Serbian does have a significant advantage in terms of experience at the top level. Djokovic is looking to reach a 10th Wimbledon quarterfinal and a 42nd overall at the Majors. Khachanov, in contrast, has never been past the last 16 at one of the Slams and has only reached that stage once previously, making it to the fourth round of the French Open last year.
Path to the fourth round
Djokovic began his Wimbledon campaign against American Tennys Sandgren, a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open earlier this year. But he never threatened a repeat of that deep run, falling 6-2 6-1 6-3. Horacio Zeballos fared little better, losing 6-1 6-2 6-3. That set up a Centre Court clash with British #1 Kyle Edmund. Djokovic overcame a slow start and a hostile crowd to defeat Edmund in four sets, 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-4, delivering one of his best performances of the year.
Khachanov, unseeded, faced former world #3 and French Open finalist David Ferrer. Ferrer was long a top ten stalwart, but as his age has caught up with him his ranking and form have dipped, and despite a typically tenacious effort he had no answer for the Russian’s power, losing 1-6 6-7 6-3 5-7. Khachanov then battled past another former Grand Slam finalist, Marcos Baghdatis, 6-3 6-4 3-6 6-7 7-5. He then rallied impressively past Frances Tiafoe from two sets behind, winning 4-6 4-6 7-6 6-2 6-1.
How do they match up?
Against Khachanov’s power, Djokovic faces a similar test to the one that faced him when he played Edmund. Both men possess monstrous forehands and big serves as well as reasonably solid backhands. But, there are few who have ever defended better than Djokovic, and he was back to his elastic best for much of the match with Edmund. Part of the reason he is so hard to hit through, is that Djokovic not only reaches balls most wouldn’t, but sends them back with interest.
His serve has also been a major asset so far at this year’s Championships. Though the 12-time Grand Slam champion has lost a little pace, his placement has never been better, and he is reaping the rewards. He landed 15 aces against Zeballos and 18 against Edmund and has won over 80% of the points behind his first serve in all three of his matches, whilst making over 73% of his first serves. Those impressive figures will leave Khachanov needing to return at his best to make a dent.
Djokovic faced a stern test against Edmund and an extremely partisan crowd and overcame them both. His ability to stay focused when a double-bounce, a net touch and a call of out were all missed by the officials when up break point deep into the fourth were particularly impressive. He looked sharp, hungry and dangerous. It will take some stopping him and as well as Khachanov can play it doesn’t seem like he will be the man to do it. Djokovic in four.