Karen Khachanov said he is looking forward to the “intensity” of playing Rafael Nadal after setting up a semi-final showdown with the world No1 at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.
Khachanov, the world No 17, came through a close quarter-final against Hyeon Chung on Thursday, edging the South Korean 7-6, 6-4.
Both players exchanged breaks in the first set before Khachanov clinched the opener in the tie-break. A solitary break of serve in the fifth game of the second set was all the Russian needed, and after fending off break point in the 10th game, claimed victory on his second match point.
“It was a good match, a good serving performance,” Khachanov, 23, said. “Hyeon is a very fast player so sometimes it was tough. I think the temperature dropped which made it tough to hit winners, so we had to rally a lot. But I think for a first, competitive match, it was a good level.”
If Khachanov is to reach Saturday’s final, he will need to achieve something that has so far eluded him on the ATP Tour. All seven official meetings against Nadal have gone the way of the Spaniard, although many of their contests have been close, most notably their four-set epic at the 2018 US Open. Nadal, though, has also proved formidable in Abu Dhabi, having won a joint-record four MWTC titles.
“I’m always encouraged to play against [Nadal],” Khachanov said. “There is always unbelievable intensity, which I like. I really admire him as a hard-working player, and I like his intense shots and movement. We’ve had some good matches with a good level of tennis, so let’s see how it goes tomorrow.”
Stefanos Tsitsipas will face a similarly tough task in his semi-final when he faces defending champion Novak Djokovic, who like Nadal has also won this tournament four times.
World No 6 Tsitsipas earned his passage to the last four with a solid 6-3, 6-4 win over Russia’s Andrey Rublev in Thursday’s first match. Tsitsipas surged into a 3-0 lead in the first set and maintained his advantage to take the opener. The 21-year-old Greek also needed just one break of serve in the second set before marching to victory.
“Overall, it was a well-balanced match, we gave a good performance out there and I hope people enjoyed it,” Tsitsipas said.
Unlike Khachanov, Tsitsipas has enjoyed success against his semi-final opponent on the ATP Tour and shares a 2-2 win-loss record with Djokovic.
“Obviously it’s a difficult test as I haven’t played at a high level for a few weeks due to the off-season, so coming in and having a second match against Novak is tricky,” he said. “It might be an exhibition, but still, matches against him are always important because I can always improve things and see how he does things and reflect on them.
“These matches are very inspirational and provide a lot to me as a player, so I will try to learn as much as I can.”