Three times previously Karen Khachanov was denied in the fourth round of a Grand Slam. But not on Monday at Roland Garros.
The No. 10 seed executed his big-hitting, aggressive game plan to near perfection to beat eighth seed Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, advancing to his first Grand Slam quarter-final. With his victory, Khachanov is guaranteed to crack the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time when the new standings are released on 10 June.
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“That’s what I’m working for, to live moments like this,” Khachanov said. “When you win matches like this, you’re just happy. You’re just happy for all the efforts that you have done before, for all the matches that you played. You’re just thankful for a team and family, so thinking about that.”
In the Round of 16 in Paris two years ago, then-World No. 1 Andy Murray dispatched Khachanov in just more than two hours. Last season, Alexander Zverev came from two-sets-to-one down to oust the Russian at this event. But Khachanov took matters into his own hands against Del Potro, ripping 58 winners to move on after three hours and nine minutes.
This was Khachanov’s first triumph against a Top 10 opponent at a major, having lost his first six matches at the Slams against the elite group. The memories of eight first-round losses this year will be long gone as the World No. 11 advances to face 2018 finalist Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals.
Typically, it’s Del Potro who comes out on top in bruising baseline rallies, eventually manoeuvring himself into position to unleash one of his massive forehands. But Khachanov stayed in rallies with the ‘Tower of Tandil’, attacking his opponent’s forehand — especially with his backhand down the line — to set up his own big forehand throughout the match.
Del Potro appeared destined to take the first set, earning five break points, but he was unable to convert any of them. Khachanov took full advantage of his new life in the set, winning his first break point, which was also a set point at 6-5, when the Argentine dumped a neutral backhand into the net.
Khachanov further built on his momentum by winning the first 11 points of the second set, taking a 3-0 lead to put even more pressure on Del Potro. And if the Russian felt any pressure trying to close out the set, he did not show it, serving it out to love, turning around to his team as he pumped his fist after Del Potro misfired on a crosscourt backhand.
“I started very well. I was playing better than him, but I couldn’t use the opportunities I had. I had several break points, but I didn’t win any, and he, with one break point, he won the first set,” Del Potro said. “The second set was very fast. I couldn’t fight back.
Del Potro, competing in just his fourth tournament of the season as he continues his recovery from a fractured patella last October, did well to immediately break to start the third set, winning his first return game of the match. But as darkness began to descend on Roland Garros, Khachanov wasted little time getting back on serve as he unleashed a rocket-like inside-in forehand winner.
The two-time semi-finalist, Del Potro, refused to go away, though. He broke to love for a 4-2 lead, erased two break points in the following game with trademark forehand winners, and snuffed out another Khachanov opportunity as he served for the set to keep his hopes alive.
But Khachanov remained undeterred, raising his level even more to break in his first return game of the fourth set. As hard as Del Potro battled, with the crowd behind him, all the 30-year-old could do was bury his head in a flower bed on the side of the court after the Russian put away one timely forehand volley.
“The match started taking the pace I wanted to give. I felt more at ease. And in the fourth set, I had more break points. [I hit] two forehands just outside,” Del Potro said. “I really played to the limit of my capabilities. That’s why I made errors.”
Khachanov was winless in three previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against Del Potro. Although none of those matches came on clay, the Russian had only won one of eight previous sets in their rivalry.
The top-ranked Russian will play Thiem for a spot in his first major semi-final. The Russian won their only previous FedEx ATP Head2Head match at last year’s Rolex Paris Masters 6-4, 6-1 in 71 minutes on an indoor hard court.
“Right now honestly I’m still not thinking about it. I’d rather to take some rest. But it’s the last eight players, for sure. I will try to do my best against him,” Khachanov said. “Here he reached three years in a row not less than the semi-finals. So for sure he’s one of the top ones on clay. But I will try to fight and let’s see.
Khachanov is the ninth Russian man to reach the last eight at Roland Garros in the Open Era, and the first to accomplish the feat since Mikhail Youzhny in 2010. Khachanov is also just the second Russian man to make a Grand Slam quarter-final since Youzhny at the 2013 US Open (Andrey Rublev, 2017 US Open).