The last two years have been quite fruitful for the young generation of men’s tennis. 21-year-old Alexander Zverev has firmly established himself as a top 5 player in the world, winning 3 Masters 1000 tournaments; Hyeon Chung reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and looked set to make a run at the top 10 before injury derailed his progress; Borna Coric beat Federer to win his first ATP 500 title in Halle, and Stefanos Tsitsipas beat four top 10 players en route to the final at the Canada Masters this month (losing only to World #1 Rafael Nadal).
In the midst of all these young players rising, Karen Khachanov has gone somewhat under the radar, perhaps due to the lack of a really big result, but it’s easy to argue some bad luck has played a role in that. At the Australian Open this year, Khachanov lost in four sets to Juan Martin del Potro in the 2nd round; he reached the fourth round at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, losing in five sets to Zverev and three sets to Djokovic (who would go on to win the tournament). If we go back to last year, we can find losses to Nadal at Wimbledon and Murray at Roland Garros, while he lost to Nishikori in his first ever Grand Slam main draw, at the US Open back in 2016. The majority of his losses at this level are to established great players.
Aside from his solid Slam performances, Khachanov has also broken through at the Masters 1000 level, reaching the semis in Canada last month, losing a close match to Nadal. He also captured the second ATP title of his career in Metz and reached a career high ranking of #26.
It’s not necessarily wrong to dismiss these results as good but not really that impressive; in fact, it’s a fair claim. It is likely to remain so after this US Open considering that, if he gets past Lorenzo Sonego today, his Round 3 opponent will in all likelihood be Nadal yet again. But these losses to higher ranked players have been mostly close and they’ve occurred in ways that suggest they can turn into wins very soon. The Russian has the firepower to challenge anyone on his day; he just hasn’t shown the consistency and experience to get it done when it really matters, but that could all change very soon. It should not surprise anyone if 12 months from now Khachanov is a top 10 player in the world.
For now though, a probable meeting with Nadal beckons, and he might prove to be far more competitive than most are expecting.
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