Karen Khachanov is one of the next gen players on the men’s tour. The guy does pack a punch and has a very unapologetic power approach to his game. It is very reminiscent of his idol, Marat Safin. The comparisons are genuine and purely based on the big ground strokes, especially the backhand. Safin fans can vouch that the stroke never looked so good on the eyes with a two-hander. Everyone appreciates the Gasquet or Wawrinka one handers but Safin and Nalbandian, had two of the purest looking two-handed backhands, where the clear use of the bottom hand was spectacular to watch. Khachanov (pronounced Hachanov) is pretty much in the same mold. He can pull the trigger off that wing on a dime and can go cross court or down the line with the same fluidity. I fully appreciated the versatility of that shot during his loss to tour veteran Randy Lu in Auckland. Khachanov was in command for the most of the encounter and is probably still angry at losing that match. But that is the type of match he will figure out to win with experience.
He is definitely a player on the rise at this first major of the year and is easily one of the toughest first rounds in the draw. While the focus has been on Zverev, Krygios and Coric, this lad from Moscow is made for the big stage as well. He moves well for someone his size and has already shown progress in the fall of 2016 by winning the Chengdu 250 event. Under the guidance of Spanish veteran Galo Blanco, he comes to Melbourne for his first main draw this year. I am hoping he has a similar run to that of Safin’s at Roland Garros in 1998. He is part of the upcoming Russian brigade on the ATP world tour along with Rublev and Medvedev. His second round loss to Kei Nishikori at the US Open last fall showed he lacks some experience but definitely had the tools to challenge the top men. He is my player to watch at this year’s Australian open. Check his progress in the draw and see if his game excites you the way Safin’s did. It sure made me a fan!