Karen Khachanov Has Been on a Tear

All was placid in Karen Khachanov’s home, if only for a few minutes.

Khachanov, back in Moscow for the ATP Tour’s Kremlin Cup this month, had gone into a quiet room, away from his wife, Veronika, and their infant son, David, to make a phone call. Married when he was almost 20 and a father now at 23, Khachanov is learning how to juggle multiple balls at the same time. It is not always easy.

“Being a father, it’s tough to describe in words,” he said. “When I saw the baby coming, it was my happiest moment. But I also know that I need to play tennis right now. I don’t get so much time to be home with them.”

Less than three years ago, Khachanov was ranked outside the world’s top 50. He moved into the top 10, at No. 9, when he reached the quarterfinals at the French Open in June. He now defends the biggest title of his career at the Masters 1000 in Paris.

Last fall, Khachanov went on a tear through Europe, winning 11 of 12 matches and taking titles in Moscow and Paris. His first Masters 1000 win included victories over four top opponents in succession — John Isner, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the final.

The following conversation has been edited and condensed.

Some players have a magical week and speak of being “in the zone.” Is that what Paris was like for you last year?

It was, for sure. Maybe not in the beginning, but I kept telling myself, “It’s the last tournament of the year.” My coach told me to just relax, enjoy the time and play free.

Did you have a big celebration after you beat Djokovic?

I wish. But I went straight to the airport and arrived home in Moscow early in the morning. My celebration was taking three days off.

Even though you reached your first major quarterfinal at Roland Garros this spring, and hit a career-high ranking of No. 8 in July, this year has not been as successful as the end of last year. What do you think happened?

I don’t really know why I didn’t start maybe so well. I always tell myself that if I work hard for something that it will pay off. At the end of the day I play because I love this game. Sometimes you get the results and sometimes you don’t. You can always look forward and backward, and things can always be better or worse. I just try to improve for my next match and give 100 percent. Then, whatever happens, happens.

Your physical strength has been well documented, as has been your potent forehand. Is the game more mental than physical for you?

I’m trying to get better mentally. Last year, when I played Isner in Paris and was down match points, I served an ace and another good serve. That was maybe the toughest mentally. I also had match points in the second set, and I lost it in the tiebreaker. There were a lot of match points in both tiebreakers. Somehow, I managed to stay calm and win in the third. The problem is, no matter what happens, every week there is another tournament and another good player, and every year you start from zero again.

Your parents were trained in medicine. Did you think you would go into that field as well?

I chose to do sport, and my parents never pushed me to do anything else. I always said, if not tennis, then I would play basketball. But if I were going to be a doctor, I guess I would be a surgeon.

You and Daniil Medvedev were born three months apart, are both Russian and are ranked in the top 10. Have you pushed each other your whole lives?

We have known each other since the under-12s. We saw each other at every tournament, and I think we played each other like six times. We were either 3-3 or I was 4-2. We’re friends. I remember we were wishing and hoping that we were going to play pro together.

You once said that your goal is to always play your “A” game. What does that mean for you?

It is playing an ideal match when I serve aces on every point, return every ball without missing and hit winners every time. That’s simple and easy to say, but tough to do.

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