French #1 Lucas Pouille will continue his attempts to become the French crowd’s long awaited champion when he takes on Karen Khachanov on Philippe Chatrier. The Frenchman has never been beyond the third round in Paris although he has been a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows. Khachanov last year impressed in reaching the round of 16 in Paris, but has faltered somewhat since. Who will come out on top?
Pouille and Khachanov have met twice so far over the course of their careers with both matches coming earlier this season. In the first Khachanov denied Pouille in front of the French fans in the final in Marseille, winning a three set thriller 7-5 3-6 7-5. However, less than a month later it was Pouille who was the victor when their rivalry was renewed in Dubai. The Frenchman edged out Khachanov in another hard-fought battle, defeating the Russian 6-4 3-6 6-3.
Path to the third round
Pouille, seeded 15th in Paris, began his campaign against the unorthodox and often dangerous Daniil Medvedev, who earlier this season claimed a first career title in Sydney. But he proved no match for Pouille on the clay, losing 2-6 3-6 4-6. Pouille then battled past Briton’s Cameron Norrie, who was making his French Open debut. Norrie acquitted himself admirably, but ultimately Pouille’s quality told as he triumphed 6-2 6-4 5-7 7-6.
Khachanov, whose ranking could ill afford an early loss in Paris after his exploits last year began his tournament against Austria’s Andreas Haider-Maurer, who was using a protected ranking to play the French Open after a torrid period of injuries. After a tight opening set, Khachanov’s power began to overwhelm the Austrian, and he won through 7-6 6-3 6-3. He then battled past the veteran Spaniard Guillermo Garcia Lopez, who had beaten Wawrinka in the first round, in four sets 6-2 7-6 6-7 6-3.
How do they match up?
Both Pouille and Khachanov are fine shot makers who play their best tennis when attacking from the baseline. The Frenchman is evidently a supremely naturally gifted athlete, with the timing on his forehand particularly excellent. That allows him to hit a big ball without having to throw too much of his weight behind the shot. His backhand, however, whilst a reliable rallying shot, is not much of a weapon with Pouille’s attempts to press with that shot often ending in unforced errors.
There are few players who hit the ball as consistently hard as Khachanov, particularly off the forehand. The 6’6” Russian uses all the power that his considerable frame allows him, and his serve, forehand and backhand can all be dangerous weapons indeed. However, such is the power with which he looks to hit every shot, he can bleed unforced errors when he’s playing poorly. His movement can also at times be exploited, and Pouille will surely look to do just that.
There is little to separate these two when they’re both playing as well as they have done this week. Pouille does just have the slight edge in terms of experience and will also be able to call upon the vocal support of the French crowd which could just tilt the match his way. But, the heavy conditions will suit the more powerful Khachanov, giving him time to wind up his groundstrokes. Expect the Russian to win through in four tight sets.