Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - Rafael Nadal plays Filip Krajinovic in the 4th round of the BNP Paribas Open in Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Michael Cummo/BNP Paribas Open)
Rafael Nadal and Karen Khachanov have gotten to know each other quite well over the years. Despite being in completely different generations of competition – Khachanov was born nearly a decade after the Nadal – the two have become familiar with each others’ games courtesy of three encounters last season, and two in 2017.
All that to say – one of these players prefers the matchup far more than the other, but it hasn’t been getting any easier for him.
Nadal owns the head-to-head with the rising Russian, winning all five of their previous encounters dating back to a straight sets win in the third round of Wimbledon two years ago. More recently, however, the 6’6” Khachanov has inched his way closer to a victory, narrowly going down in the third round of the US Open last September by a grueling 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(7), 7-6(3) scoreline.
It doesn’t get much closer than that – but how close will it be in Friday’s quarterfinal?
No. 2 seed Nadal has been relatively untested so far in the southern California desert, demolishing Jared Donaldson, Diego Schwartzman and Filip Krajinovic with ruthless efficiency without the loss of more than four games in all sets played. On the other hand, Khachanov has played himself into form. After starting the year with a meager 4-5 win-loss record, last year’s surprise Paris Masters champ fought past Feliciano Lopez in three sets in the second round here, followed by increasingly impressive victories over countryman Andrey Rublev and crowd favorite John Isner.
“What to say? He’s one of the best tennis players, great champion,” said Khachanov on his upcoming sixth meeting against the 17-time Grand Slam champion. “I’m playing better, feeling more confident. It will be a good challenge, good match for me. I’m really looking forward to have a good match against him.”
And on their recent US Open epic last year? “I think it was one of the best matches from last year and in general in terms of fight, spirit, intensity, the rallies, the atmosphere. Everything was amazing.”
A humble assessment, but ultimately Khachanov will have to do one better than ‘amazing’ if he’s to finally get the better of Nadal on Friday.