(Photo credit: Francisco Diez)
Two-time defending champion and world #1 takes on Russian young gun Karen Khachanov for a place in the Monte Carlo quarterfinals. Nadal’s season is yet to really get underway. After retiring with an injury from his Australian Open quarterfinal, he did not take to the court competitively again until the Davis Cup less than a fortnight ago. But back on the clay he will be feeling confident. Khachanov is no slouch either on the red dirt, but faces surely the biggest test currently in the game. Who will come out on top?
Nadal and Khachanov have met twice so far in their careers with both matches coming last year. The first was in the third round at Wimbledon. Nadal began brightly, restricting the Russian to just one game in the first set and no winners. Khachanov found his feet in the contest thereafter, acquitting himself well, but the result never seemed to be in doubt as Nadal won 6-1 6-4 7-6. They met again in the second round in Beijing, and Nadal was a comfortable straight sets victor.
Path to the third round
Nadal as the top seed in Monte Carlo received a first round bye. That saw him begin his campaign for an eleventh Monte Carlo title against Slovenia’s Bedene. Bedene, who recently reverted to playing for Slovenia after a period representing Britain, is at his best on the clay, but was given something of a lesson in clay court tennis by the great Spaniard. Nadal began impressively, breaking at the first opportunity, and never relinquished his grip on the match, going on to win 6-1 6-3.
Khachanov, unseeded, began his tournament in the first round against Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis, who scored a famous win against Roger Federer in Miami. But Kokkinakis, after a string of injuries, was short of clay court matches and despite a valiant effort was undone by Khachanov’s heavy hitting in the crucial moments, losing 5-7 4-6. That set up a clash against former world #6 Gilles Simon. The once tireless Frenchman is now 33-years-old and a career of counter-punching is beginning to take its toll. Khachanov overpowered the older man to win 6-2 6-2.
How do they match up?
Khachanov will likely come out swinging in this match as he attempts to hand Nadal just his fifth defeat at the Monte Carlo Country Club. The 21-year-old is not short of firepower, and he will need his big weapons to be firing if he wants to upset Nadal. Most dangerous of all is his monstrous forehand that he hits with less topspin Nadal but more power. His backhand is also a useful weapon, but the Russian’s fairly large take backs can see him lose his rhythm fairly easily on an off day.
Nadal will bring his peerless defensive skills to the match. Though his court coverage is impressive on all surfaces, no one else can move as well as he does on a clay court. That forces his opponents to go for more than they usually would, typically drawing out a costly number of unforced errors. The Spaniard is also well-capable of going on the offensive. His forehand, hit with more revolutions on the ball than most can muster, has been his trademark shot over the course of his career, and for good reason.
What doubts there were about Nadal’s readiness for the clay court season were surely well-and-truly shaken off by his dominant performance against Aljaz Bedene. Nadal is world #1, and the universally acknowledged clay court king for a reason, and it’s hard to see what Khachanov can bring to the court to dethrone him. Whilst the clay will give Khachanov time to tee-off with some big groundstrokes, Nadal’s superior movement and clay court skill will bring the defending champion a straight sets victory.
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