Karen Khachanov overpowered World No. 51 Mackenzie McDonald in a tight encounter in the first round of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha on Monday.
Both men made few errors in a high-quality match, but the Russian was able to find something extra at key moments to run out a 7-6(3), 6-3 winner in one hour, 25 minutes.
Khachanov has enjoyed a strong start to 2022, reaching the final at the Adelaide International 1 (l. to Monfils) and pushing eventual champion Rafael Nadal to four sets in the third round of the Australian Open in January, and he had to bring his best to his opening-round match.
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World No. 51 McDonald was making his first appearance in Doha but he immediately looked comfortable in his surroundings and proved a tough test for the 2018 Rolex Paris Masters champion.
The match opened with a set of fine margins that was dominated by serve. There were no break points and Khachanov won 87 per cent (26/30) points behind his first delivery, with his American opponent just behind on 86 per cent (18/21). A tie-break was inevitable, and it was Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Khachanov who found more consistency at the end to take it 7/3.
The setback did not deter McDonald, who created the first three break points of the match in the second game of the second set. He could not convert, however, Khachanov showing real quality under pressure to reel off five points and hold, including a delightful drop volley at 30/40.
McDonald was made to pay for not taking his chances, the Russian clinically taking his first break point of the match for a 3-2 lead and the sixth seed looked a lot more settled from then on. He sealed victory by thumping a forehand return winner on match point.
The win moves Khachanov’s ATP Head2Head series lead over McDonald to 3-0. His next opponent will be either Belgian David Goffin or Pune finalist Emil Ruusuvuori.
Elsewhere, Botic van de Zandschulp pulled through a second-set lapse to secure a 6-2, 7-6(5) win over Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano.
The World No. 50 was looking strong at a set and 4-2 up but a series of unforced errors from the Dutchman allowed Fabbiano back into the match. Van de Zandschulp was able to regain his composure in time for the second set tie-break to seal victory and set a second-round clash with fourth seed Marin Cilic.
Soonwoo Kwon marked his Doha debut with a 7-6(6), 1-6, 6-4 victory over American qualifier Christopher Eubanks.
The South Korean was broken three times as he was blown away in the second set, but the 2021 Nur-Sultan champion regathered himself to take the decider, losing only seven points behind his first serve in the match.
Top seed Denis Shapovalov will face World No. 73 Alex Molcan in the second-round after the Slovakian beat another qualifier, Australian Christopher O’Connell, 6-7(4), 7-6(6), 6-4.