Perhaps the most interesting match of Day 3 of the Australian Open is the one featuring recent Auckland champion Jack Sock and one of the fastest rising players in the ATP circuit, Karen Khachanov. The Russian had a great end to 2016, winning his first ever career title in Chengdu and rising as high as #51 in ATP rankings.
Khachanov will be playing in the second round of a Slam for the second time in a row; at the US Open last year, he went up against one of the best players in the world in Kei Nishikori and played extraordinarily, giving the Japanese all he could handle. Nishikori eventually won a very tight match (120-117 in total points won) because of his superior experience, but there was clearly a sense that Khachanov’s time would be soon and that 2017 could be a big year for him.
Now, after beating Adrian Mannarino in round 1, Khachanov has a a great opportunity to reach his first Round 3 of a Slam. Sock isn’t exactly an easy opponent, in fact he’s rightfully the favorite, but he’s certainly more beatable than Nishikori and he’s likely to be feeling the effects of his big Auckland run as he’s always been know for his suspicious fitness. A win over Sock would likely get Khachanov a very tasty matchup against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Round 3. Regardless of the result tomorrow, though, you can still expect big things from the rapidly improving Russian in 2017.
Khachanov’s main weapon is undoubtedly his huge serve. He’s no Isner or Karlovic, but he can consistently serve above 200 km/h with good placement and earn a lot of aces and service winners. In fact, he hit 32 aces and won 87% of his first serve points against Mannarino in the first round. But he’s far more than just a serve; his groundstrokes are also ridiculously powerful and heavy off both wings. Khachanov cites Marat Safin and Juan Martin del Potro as his two idols and you can see he truly got some inspiration off them in the way he plays. But of course he still has a long way to go to get anywhere near the level those two former Slam champions showed in their prime, as there’s still a lot of weaknesses to be ironed out.
The key area of improvement and biggest challenge for the Russian in the coming year is consistency; as scary as he is at his best, he struggles to maintain his intensity through a match, tournament and week to week. As incredibly powerful as his game is, his movement isn’t bad at all for a big man, and the same can be said for his return. If he can find a way to become consistent, Khachanov will undoubtedly become one of the top players in the world. He’s definitely one to watch out for.