Rafael Nadal can move one step closer to his third Wimbledon title on Friday afternoon but must first defeat big hitting Karen Khachanov. The Russian has made big strides on the tour over the past year, coming into the event as a seed at No.30. There were very few players in the early part of Nadal’s draw that you felt could pull off a surprise like his losses of the past few years, aside from Khachanov.
Khachanov came into the tournament with a new career high of 34 and can likely improve on that were he to win here. Highlights of his year include his 2 most recent tournaments – a 4th round appearance at Roland Garros and a semi final in Halle. He put up a spirited performance against the eventual champion there – losing in 2 tight sets to Roger Federer. So far at Wimbledon, he hasn’t exactly lit it up. He toughed out wins against Thiago Monteiro and Andrey Kuznetsov despite the pair being far more at home on clay. In the 4 set win over Monteiro, he saved 15 break points. While impressive, he will have to tighten it up on serve because Nadal will be far less forgiving.
Nadal has continued his dominant run of form at Wimbledon, winning 6 straight sets and giving up very little to his opponents so far. 5 more breaks against Donald Young in round two meant he now has 13 for the tournament while giving up only 3 himself and looking fairly comfortable on serve for the most part. Nadal does appreciate the threat of his young opponent and won’t be taking him for granted. “He’s a great player in all aspects; good serve, good forehand, good backhand, a lot of power. He’s very strong, as all the young players. And he’s a good worker.” he said of the Russian.
Khachanov has had the opportunity to test himself against two of the big four already this year, losing in straight sets to Federer and Murray, the latter at Roland Garros. A similar fate likely awaits him tomorrow against an unstoppable Nadal but if there is someone who has the potential to strike hot and defeat him while the tournament is still young, it will be Khachanov.
Prediction – Rafael Nadal in straight sets