Karen Khachanov has stunned Novak Djokovic on one of tennis’ biggest stages, upsetting the Serbian in the 2018 Rolex Paris Masters final. But will the big-hitting Russian be able to replicate that feat in his fourth-round match against the World No. 1 on Monday at Roland Garros?
“What happened in the past, it’s already in the books. But every new match is a new challenge, new opportunity,” Khachanov said. “Maybe mentally you know that you beat him in this particular match, [so] for sure it gives you the confidence inside to know that you’ve done it already at least once.
“[The] deeper you go, [the] tougher the opponents you face. This is what it’s all about.”
Djokovic leads their ATP Head2Head series 3-1 and this will be their first clash on clay. The top seed has only lost 15 games through three matches in his pursuit of an 18th Grand Slam title. Khachanov knows that while he has weapons in his game, it is not about landing one knockout blow against the Serbian.
“[You have to] try to be steady, try to maintain the level that we will play during the most time possible. For sure it’s not easy to take the serves here in every match because the conditions are slow,” Khachanov said. “You don’t have to be surprised if you lose a few games even if you can serve hard or not. A lot of balls are coming back, especially in the current situation. I think the most important thing for me is to stay steady, to believe in myself, to believe in the game that I’m playing.”
In the second and third rounds, Djokovic faced first-time opponents. The 2016 Roland Garros champion said a key was to get off to a strong start to apply pressure. Although he has competed against Khachanov, a quick start will still be vital.
“I think if you impose yourself from the very beginning on the court, which I have in those first three matches here, then it makes it hard for them to really believe that they can come back and make a turnaround in the match,” Djokovic said.
The winner of that match will play two-time US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta or German Daniel Altmaier. If the qualifier upsets the 17th seed, he will become the first man to reach the last eight at a major on his Grand Slam debut since Alex Radulescu at 1996 Wimbledon. Carreno Busta made the quarter-finals in Paris in 2017.
Daniel Altmaier is in the fourth round of a major for the first time. Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
An interesting first-time meeting will pit two former Nitto ATP Finals champions against each other: fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and former World No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov.
Tsitsipas has rebounded well from a crushing five-set defeat in the third round of the US Open against Borna Coric. The Greek reached the Hamburg final and after battling from two sets down for the first time in his opener against Jaume Munar, he has rounded into form. Dimitrov has not dropped a set en route to his first appearance in the fourth round at Roland Garros.
Tsitsipas is the more powerful player, while Dimitrov, who is also a shotmaker, uses more angles to manoeuvre his opponents to his liking. Both men have one-handed backhands.
“I don’t know much about him, to be honest, outside the court. I’ve clearly watched him play a lot of matches. He’s been having very, very good results, playing good tennis on any surface,” Dimitrov said. “I’m excited first of all to be in the second week of this tournament. It’s a great feeling. I want to hold onto it and kind of focus on my side of the net.
“I’m very pleased at where my game is right now. My body as well. [We both have] one-handers, of course. We go from there.”
Monday’s other fourth-round clash is between red-hot Russian Andrey Rublev and Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, who is trying to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final. Their only previous tour-level meeting came in a 2017 Davis Cup match, which Fucsovics won in five sets.
“Right now he’s just about to break in the Top 10,” Fucsovics said. “I got more mature [since we played]. I have more experience. I’m fit now, fitter than ever. I’m looking forward to playing a good match against him, trying to finally break through to the quarter-finals.”
Before the tournament began, Rubev had never won a match at Roland Garros. He is trying to reach his third Grand Slam quarter-final (2017 and 2020 US Open).