In a battle of the big-hitters, world #1 Rafael Nadal takes on Russian young gun Karen Khachanov for a place in the final in Toronto. Nadal has put together an excellent season since returning from injury in April. He virtually swept the clay court season before reaching his first Wimbledon semifinal since 2011. Khachanov has had some good results himself, not least in reaching the fourth round at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon. But who will win this one?
Nadal and Khachanov have met three times and the numbers make grim reading for the Russian. Their first meeting came last year in the third round at Wimbledon where Khachanov was utterly overwhelmed in the first set. He dug in thereafter to make a contest of it but couldn’t recover, losing 0-6 4-6 6-7. Nadal then beat him 6-3 6-3 in the second round in Beijing on the way to lifting the title. He scored his third win without reply earlier this year, beating Khachanov 6-3 6-2 in Monte Carlo.
Path to the semifinals
Nadal, the top seed, began his campaign in Toronto against Benoit Paire after a first-round bye. Despite seven straight breaks in the second set, Nadal was largely untroubled in recording a 6-2 6-3 win. He then withstood a resurgent Stan Wawrinka to win 7-5 7-6 and reach the quarterfinals. Marin Cilic awaited him there and in the first set the Croatian was unplayable. But Nadal stuck to his task and eventually wore Cilic down to win 2-6 6-4 6-4.
Khachanov, unseeded, dismissed 2017 Bercy finalist Filip Krajinovic 6-3 6-2 in the first round. He backed that up by upsetting Pablo Carreno Busta 6-4 7-6 in the second round. Khachanov then edged out John Isner 7-6 7-6, impressively winning the second set tiebreak without dropping a point, to reach the quarterfinals. There he crushed Robin Haase, who last year made the semifinals in Montreal, 6-3 6-1 to reach the first Masters 1000 semifinal of his career.
How do they match up?
Nadal has already faced two huge ball-strikers this week. Khachanov will be the third. The Russian, who stands 6’6” tall and is broad at the shoulder, is every bit as powerful as he looks. His forehand is his biggest weapon and he hits it with pace and spin that rivals even Nadal’s. Nor does he hold back on the backhand. Khachanov is comfortable drilling it both cross-court and down the line. He has also already landed 41 aces this week, a testament to the power of his first serve.
But what has been Khachanov’s problem in the past is that not only can Nadal match him blow for blow off the ground, he also defends far better than the Russian. Indeed, Nadal’s ability to keep the ball in play is unrivalled. For example, it took Khachanov until the tenth game of their encounter at Wimbledon to hit his first winner. Nadal’s ability to hit the ball hard and deep also robs the Russian of time, which is a real problem for him thanks to his large takebacks.
Nadal has won comfortably against Khachanov in their three previous encounters, giving him victories against him on a grass, hard and clay court. That seems to rather pointedly suggest that this is not a match up Khachanov enjoys. He has, in fairness, been playing superb tennis all week and Nadal is likely to have a harder time blunting his offence than he has in the past. But, not such a hard time that he won’t succeed. Nadal in straight sets.