Paris, France : Russia’s Karen Khachanov today defeated Novak Djokovic to win the Rolex Paris Masters ending a 22-match unbeaten run for incoming world number one Djokovic.
World tennis was left celebrating the discovery of a new superstar on Sunday after Karen Khachanov delivered a proper sporting sensation by overpowering Novak Djokovic in the Rolex Paris Masters final to halt, temporarily at least, the Serbian’s amazing dominance of the men’s game.
The 22-year-old Russian showed exactly why he is seen as one of the finest young talents in the sport, battering his way through the defences of Djokovic, who was on a three-month, 22-match winning streak, to win 7-5 6-4 in one hour 37 minutes.
This was the court that Djokovic owned, the court where he had won four titles, the court where just the night before, he had produced one of his most epic performances to beat Roger Federer.
Yet Khachanov didn’t care one hoot about reputations. He simply demolished the best defence in tennis with relentless aggression and power to leave Djokovic and the rest of the tennis world pondering that this young Russian may actually be the real deal.
He even had the temerity to pinch one of Novak’s trademark victory celebrations as he bent down to kiss the Court Central. Alas, there was no grass on the surface for him to eat!
“To finish my season like this is a dream,” Khachanov told the crowd in the AccorHotels Arena, after taking the biggest title of his career. It won’t be the last, that’s for certain.
He called Djokovic “an inspiration for the many titles he won and how he went through tough moments last year and came back to world No.1.”
But not once did he seem overawed by the challenge, and he called on his knowledge that he was unbeaten in the three finals he had played previously.
“I was thinking ‘Okay, he has, I don’t know, 70, 80 titles.’ But I have three. But 3-0 (in finals), you know? So maybe it was in the back of my mind,” said Khachanov.
Djokovic had been expected to celebrate his return to world number one on Monday with a record-extending fifth Rolex Paris Masters title but Khachanov crashed 31 winners past him, playing quite breathtaking all-court tennis.
He served huge, made well-planned ventures to the net and constantly forced Djokovic back on his heels with the length and accuracy of his brutal forehands.
He took advantage of Djokovic feeling under-the-weather too after a week when the Serb had been struggling with flu-like symptoms and was left almost out on his feet after the exertions of the Federer match.
Asked if he properly recovered from that game, Djokovic said: “I didn’t, unfortunately. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about how well he played all week and how he absolutely deserved to win the match today.
“So all the credit to Karen. He deserves it. He showed great quality today and he showed why we’re going to see a lot of great matches from him in the future.”
You can be sure of it. The last time they met, Djokovic dismissed Khachanov easily in three sets at Wimbledon. For a moment, as the Serb gave him the early run-around to go 3-1 up in the opening set, it seemed as if this match might go the same way.
Yet Khachanov, who has the mind of a good Russian chess player, knew it was time for another strategy.
“After that, my intensity (changed), I stepped in more inside the court. I started to move him and maybe he didn’t expect that I could do it after being down 3-1 with a break.”
Khachanov broke back immediately and then, relentlessly keeping up the pressure, he didn’t give up another break point in the rest of the match.
He converted his own decisive break point at 5-5 in the opener with a searing backhand at full stretch before going on to serve out the set in 57 minutes.
Khachanov then broke again to go 2-1 up in the second when Djokovic netted a weak backhand. Physically, the game may have looked up for Djokovic but he never stopped fighting, of course, and still won one exceptional rally in the final game that floored the Russian.
It was his final act of defiance. Khachanov, he recognised, had been just too good. “He was playing big from the back of the court. Flat backhands and forehand. He can really hurt you. That’s a big weapon. And serve. I mean, serve is really, really strong and precise. So his overall game was really, really great all week,” shrugged Nole.
Djokovic reckoned he had to be satisfied with his week’s work, though. “And I’m going to be No.1 tomorrow, officially. What more can I ask for? I mean, I won 20-plus matches in a row and had a most amazing last five months of the year.
“So I’m getting into the season finale with a lot of confidence and feeling good about my game. Hopefully, health-wise, physically, I’ll be fine in a week time when it all starts in London.”
But this was someone else’s day. “Maybe I’m not crying,” beamed the new star, Khachanov. “But still I’m really happy!”