Karen Khachanov has to be the most slept on player in recent memory. However, there is a very good reason why this is the case. Out of all players over the last 20 years, you will find few players who have such an extraordinary gulf between their highest and base levels. In 2018 for instance, he won the Paris Masters by defeating Novak Djokovic. He then had a glimmer of results in the early half of 2019, before withering away for almost 2 years. Khachanov then awoke at the Olympics of 2021. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was one of the most unusual Olympic formats in recent memory. Due to the novel coronavirus outbreak which had shocked the world in 2020, the event was rescheduled and played in the middle of 2021. Despite the ban on fans in many events- the 28th Olympic games took place, in all its glory, a spectacle to behold given the unbelievably tough year the world had to go through.
On the tennis side, many pundits predicted Novak, Medvedev and potentially Tsitisipas or Zverev, to be the 3 medallists at the Olympics. However, in an event that stunned the tennis world, Karen Khachanov came from left field to take home the prestigious silver medal at the Summer Games. Despite having never made it past a quarterfinal at a major, Khachanov saved his best tennis for a stage which mattered so much to him. It is the curious case of Karen Khachanov, a player that can produce some of the highest level of tennis when he is on, and can also lose to an unranked qualifier when he’s off.
For instance, at last year’s US Open, despite winning Olympic silver, Karen Khachanov was beaten in the 1st round by Lloyd Harris, in 5 sets. In the last 3 years, Khachanov has also struggled to perform at Masters 1000 events, having lost in the 2nd and 3rd round in 18 of the last 20 Masters 1000 events. However, something clicked again at this year’s US Open- and now he is into hist first grand slam semi-final of his career. He had to do it the hard way though, toppling arguably the most in-form player of the last 3 months. Khachanov showed extraodinary poise in key moments, and his serve almost never failed him at key junctions of the match where Kyrgios was able to obtain break points. It was far and away the best performance from Khachanov in a major in a long long time- and what a way to do it than in New York.
Nevertheless, the inconsistency of Khachanov is worrying. Khachanov is clearly an unbelievable player, but his best and his worst is so astronomically different. His run of form is almost eerily similar to Grigor Dimitrov at his peak- who in 2017 won Cincinatti, the ATP Finals, and competed at the highest level in the Australian Open semi-final against Rafael Nadal, which went to 5 sets. However, Dimitrov’s results at tournaments he is expected to dominate is quite worrying. Khachanov is in a similar boat. Compare, for instance, his run to the 2018 Paris Masters, defeating Djokovic, to his performance at any of this year’s Masters 1000s. In Miami this year, he lost to Tommy Paul. No disrespect to Tommy Paul whatsoever, he is a rising talent in the sport who will reach some great results-but Karen Khachanov really should not be losing in the 2nd round of Masters to players ranked in their 40s. Karen Khachanov broke through alongside a generation of players, like Zverev and Medvedev, however, he has only finally started to make in-roads at major level.
All in all, given his victory last night against Kyrgios in the QF of the US Open, and his prestigious silver medal at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, is Karen Khachanov the most unpredictable player in recent history?