Lucas Pouille will look to win his second title in as many tournaments when he takes to the court against Russia’s Karen Khachanov. The big hitting Russian had some excellent moments last year, including reaching the fourth round at the French Open, but his form rather stuttered thereafter. He will be hoping that his run to the final marks a turnaround, one that he would dearly love to cap with a title. But will home hope or young gun come out on top?
Pouille and Khachanov are yet to meet on Tour, which is not entirely surprising as both are still fairly near the beginning of their careers. That is particularly true of Khachanov who really only has one full season under his belt. In terms of experience, Pouille unsurprisingly has the advantage. He is a five-time titlist at Tour-level, has reached two Grand Slam quarterfinals and last year played an important role in France’s Davis Cup victory. Khachanov has one career title to his name having won the inaugural Chengdu Open, but had not made another final until this week.
Path to the finals
Lucas Pouille as the third seed in Marseille enjoyed a first-round bye. That saw him begin his tournament in the round of 16 against compatriot Pierre-Hugues Herbert who is enduring a spell of indifferent form in the singles. Pouille did little to improve that as he rallied from losing the first set to win in three, surviving a tight second set tiebreak. He was again taken the distance in his quarterfinal, defeating Filip Krajinovic 7-6 3-6 6-4 before seeing off surprise semifinalist Ilya Ivashka 6-3 7-6.
Khachanov, given a seeding after Goffin’s withdrawal with an eye injury, began against Ruben Bemelmans who he defeated 6-3 7-6. He then brushed aside Mischa Zverev, who was his original first round opponent before Goffin’s withdrawal, 6-2 6-1. That put him through to the quarterfinals where he faced Frenchman Julien Benneteau, who is enjoying a new lease of life having reconsidered his decision to retire. Benneteau wasn’t able to handle Khachanov’s power however, and nor could former world #4 Tomas Berdych who fell 6-3 6-2 in the semifinals.
How do they match up?
Both players are fine ball strikers with no glaring weaknesses in their ground strokes. Pouille possesses a deceptively powerful forehand, with which he is able to do serious damage when afforded the opportunity. His backhand is also a useful offensive weapon, although he can at times take it up the line rashly. His net play, whilst not at an elite level, is generally very tidy and Pouille rarely makes poor errors in the forecourt.
His defensive skills will be tested, however, by the raw power of Khachanov. The Russian possesses one of the biggest forehands in the game and when he is allowed to unleash his 6’6 frame there are few who can withstand his power. He does not hit his backhand as hard as he does the forehand, but it is still a formidable shot when the Russian is on song. That is the crux of Khachanov’s game, however.
When the Russian is playing well he can seem almost unstoppable, akin to Del Potro and Berdych at their best. However, his game is only effective when he is able to control his power. When the Russian is not at his best he bleeds unforced errors. He can also be vulnerable to being rushed, with his forehand particularly having a larger than average takeback. If Pouille is able to hit with depth and power, he will likely be rewarded with unforced errors from the racquet of Khachanov.
Khachanov is probably the best player Pouille has faced all week. But the Frenchman should still have enough to get by him. Pouille’s record of five titles from seven finals is very impressive, and he has delivered some of the best performances of his career when it has mattered most, particularly his straight sets destruction of Tsonga in Vienna last year. Pouille in straight sets.
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