RUSSIAN ace Karen Khachanov has caused one of the shocks of the tennis year by overpowering a tired-looking Novak Djokovic 7-5 6-4 in the Paris Masters final to end the Serbian’s remarkable spell of dominance in the men’s game.
The 22-year-old has for some time been seen as one of the rising young talents of the sport but few could have envisaged his demolition on Sunday of the Serbian superstar, who was on a three-month, 22-match winningstreak.
Djokovic was expected to celebrate his return to world No.1 on Monday with a record-extending fifth Paris title but he went down in one hour 37 minutes amid a hail of 31 crushing winners from the Muscovite’s racket.
He looked out of energy after an epic three-hour semi-final win against Roger Federer on Saturday.
After also being taken to three sets by Marin Cilic in Friday’s quarterfinals, Djokovic’s semi-final finished at around 8pm. He felt he was unable to recover sufficiently from that draining encounter.
“I didn’t unfortunately. But I don’t want to talk about that,” he said. “I want to talk about how well (Khachanov) played all week and absolutely deserved to win today.”
Asked again whether it was also a case of emotional and mental fatigue after such an intense tussle with Federer, Djokovic repeated his praise for Khachanov.
“Karen played really well and he deserved to win,” Djokovic said. “All the credit to him.”
Khachanov took a leaf out of the Serb’s book of celebrations by bending down to kiss the Centre Court.
“To finish my season like this is a dream,” he told the crowd in the Bercy arena, explaining how Djokovic had always been an inspiration to him.
The strapping 198cm huge hitter with surprisingly fleet movement around the court, took advantage of Djokovic being a little under-the-weather after a week struggling with flu-like symptoms.
Although Djokovic broke in the fourth game to move 3-1 up and then led 30-0 on serve, the unseeded Khachanov broke him straight back and the momentum abruptly shifted away from Djokovic.
“I make a couple of unforced errors and just played a bad game,” Djokovic said. “Unfortunately, I just didn’t have that little extra.”
The Serb seemed agitated at times and twice turned to his box to remonstrate about an unspecified issue during the first set.
Khachanov broke for 6-5 when he hit a powerful shot down the line that Djokovic could only scoop back into the net.
The unseeded Russian won the first set with a big first serve that Djokovic could not return, stretching out his racket in vain as the fizzing ball clipped the frame.
Djokovic struggled to handle Khachanov’s brutal two-handed, cross-court backhands from the baseline, which often landed near his ankles, and dropped his serve again to trail 2-1 in the second set.
He had to save three more break points in the seventh game to hold for 4-3 down.
“He was playing big from the back of the court, flat backhands and forehand. He can really hurt you,” Djokovic said.
“His serve is really, really strong and precise.”
After both players held to love, Khachanov showed no nerves — even though he was in his first Masters final — and served out the match.
He secured victory on his first match point when Djokovic chopped a backhand return wide. The imposing Russian thrust both his arms in the air and, moments later, knelt down to kiss the court.
Djokovic will return to No.1 in the rankings for the first time in two years on Monday, but he will be disappointed at missing out on a 73rd career title, having withstood the best of Federer on Saturday.
Still, the Wimbledon and US Open champion has plenty to feel good about after a 22-match winning streak, and he remains favourite for the season-ending ATP Finals in London, beginning November 11.
“I’m satisfied of course and I’m going to be No.1 tomorrow. What more can I ask for? I mean, I won 20-plus matches in a row and had a most amazing last five months,” he said. “I’m getting into (the) season finale feeling good about my game.”
The 22-year-old Khachanov, ranked 18th, is the first Russian to win here since Nikolay Davydekno in 2006. Marat Safin won it three times before that.
Khachanov added this title to the Kremlin Cup in Moscow last month for his third title of the year and fourth overall.
He has won all of his four finals.
“We’re going to see a lot of him in the future,” Djokovic said.
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