by Saqib Ali
Tennis’s version of the cold war could be on full display in the ATP next gen battle. As the tour seeks and tries to promote the future of the men’s game, there is more than few American and Russian upstarts. Two of them were on show courts at the Miami open today in Crandon Park. Francis Tiafoe of USA and Karen Khachanov of Russian Federation . Both men pack a big game and are endorsed by Nike, in fact both wore the same styled apparel today. I guess that’s where the similarities ended, at least for their Miami open fate.
Khachanov was up against Argentine journeyman Diego Schwartzman on the grandstand court. His power off both wings is there for anyone to watch. I must admit he hits the ball harder when viewed in person than on TV and his backhand is a thing of beauty if you treasure the Safin backhand. I have formed this notion about Karen that he plays his tennis in only one gear; basically the fifth gear. His game is about overpowering the opponent with his thundering serves and groundstrokes. Today was no exception as his racquet was doing most of the talking in the deciding set, be it a winner or an error. This is not to short change the effort of Schwartzman who absorbed the Russian’s power and redirected those exchanges with some great angles of his own. He made Khachanov pay for his poor and at times ambitious shot selection. The pro tour is a very unforgiving place once the book is out on how to beat a player. Khachanov plays a lot of big strike tennis with literally no plan B. It is pretty obvious the players know that he will spray his intent with a lot of unforced errors an they patiently wait for that moment or the right ball to punish. That’s what Schwartzman was able to do successfully as he won the decider in the third set tie break. The Argentine will now play David Ferrer in the next round, while Khachanov will work with coach Blanco to figure out the right balance needed to win these matches.
Tiafoe on the contrary played a much composed brand of tennis besides a minor hick up in the second set against the Russian veteran Kravchuk. Tiafoe showed his full range of power tennis and some fine touch at the net during this encounter. This was his second straight win against his opponent in as many weeks, as the pair met in the first round of last week’s Irving challenger. Tiafoe admitted later in his presser that it can be tough playing someone back to back and gave credit to his opponent for the improved fight. It’s still early days on tour for the young American but he seems to have embraced the big stage quite well in his few appearances this year and in particular the battle against Juan Martin Del Porto in Mexico. Coming in as the next gen star carries some pressure but to be one of the brightest hopes for the biggest tennis economy must add more expectations. Young Tiafoe has a date with tennis destiny as he takes on his idol Roger Federer in the next round. He is excited for the matchup to happen but was all praise for the Swiss Maestro. Tiafoe unlike Khachanov has already displayed the ability to adjust during the match if plan A is not firing.
They are both infants in tennis career terms, but if they were to become major rivals one day then this global sport will be the greatest beneficiary. Lets hope we see Karen vs Francis as one of the next big matchups of tennis in years to come.