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Juan Martin del Potro vs Karen Khachanov ASB Classic tennis live: Del Potro bids for first ATP semifinal of 2018 in Auckland

Hannah Wilks in ATP Tour 10 Jan 2018
  • Juan Martin del Potro faces Karen Khachanov in the quarterfinals of the ASB Classic in Auckland
  • Del Potro vs Khachanov ASB Classic tennis is live from Auckland on Thursday at 7pm local/6am GMT
Juan Martin del Potro (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Juan Martin del Potro takes on Karen Khachanov – a much younger player with the same height and another massive forehand – for a place in the semifinals of the ASB Classic.

After beating Denis Shapovalov in straight sets, Juan Martin del Potro takes on another rising star of the men’s game as he faces Karen Khachanov in the quarterfinals of the ASB Classic in Auckland.

Del Potro’s opening win in Auckland over Shapovalov, coupled with defending champion Jack Sock’s defeat in the second round at the hands of Peter Gojowczyk, means that the Argentine will be ranked inside the top 10 next week for the first time since 2014, when he rose as high as world no. 4 after winning the Apia International Sydney title but only played three more events that season before having to undergo multiple surgeries on his right wrist which kept him almost completely out of competition for two years.

A return to the top 10 is the latest impressive stage in del Potro’s incredible comeback to the top of the game, which began in February 2016 with the former US Open champion ranked world no. 1,042 and saw him end the year as an Olympic bronze medalist and part of Argentina’s first-ever winning Davis Cup team. The 2017 season was a rougher go in many ways, with the first half of the season marred by injury issues and the loss of del Potro’s grandfather, but an unlikely run to the US Open semifinals, followed by reaching the semifinals of the Shanghai Masters, winning the Stockholm Open and finishing runner-up in Basel, saw del Potro end the year at world no. 12, even if defeat to John Isner in the quarterfinals of the Paris Masters ended his outside bid at qualifying once more for the ATP Finals.

Del Potro, playing Auckland for the first time since winning the title in 2009, had modest expectations for beginning his year, but he has started 2018 with a very good win against rising Canadian youngster Denis Shapovalov. Shapovalov had shocked del Potro in Montreal last summer as part of the remarkable run that put him on the map, but del Potro was in almost total control of their Auckland encounter, breaking Shapovalov three times on the way to a 6-2, 6-4 victory. 

‘I was surprised by the match today,’ del Potro said. ‘I didn’t expect to play at this level in the first match of the year. But I’ve been working hard to play this tennis and hopefully I can still improve in the next matches.

‘If he has a good day, he is very dangerous as a lefty, he serves well and volleys. Denis played better than me in the Montreal match, but today I broke him three times to love and that was the key. I served well throughout the match.’

Shapovalov’s flashy attacking style, which generated far more unforced errors than winners on this particular occasion, did mean that del Potro didn’t have to do much more than serve well and play solid – but the Argentine didn’t seem rusty at all despite not having played a match since November’s Paris Masters.

ASB Classic 2018 live stream: ATP tennis live from Auckland

Starting the year with back-to-back wins would be ideal for del Potro, but he is up against another talented young player next in 21-year-old Russian Karen Khachanov, who started his season unofficially last week at the Hopman Cup where he partnered Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and officially this week in Auckland with a victory over sixth seed Pablo Cuevas.

Khachanov suffered defeats to Sock and Roger Federer last week at Hopman Cup before beating Yuichi Sugita - and then beat Sugita again in Auckland before knocking out sixth seed Sugita, so he is already five matches into his 2018 season. The Russian not only broke into the top 50 in 2017 but also reached a career-high ranking of world no. 29 in August, having racked up some very good results on clay and grass: He made the quarterfinals in Barcelona (beating David Goffin), the round of 16 at the French Open (beating Tomas Berdych), the semifinals of Halle and the third round of Wimbledon. Khachanov’s finish to the year was not so strong and he failed to defend his Chengdu Open title, which he won when ranked world no. 101 in 2016, but he did qualify for the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan and finished the year at world no. 45. 

A very tall and powerfully-built man at 6’6”, Khachanov has a natural affinity for del Potro – who is also 6’6” – and has looked to emulate him: ‘I like the way he destroyed everyone,’ the Russian said in Milan last November. 

‘Obviously, I would like to. I try to hit big, like him, to try to go around the forehand and try to play aggressive.’

Del Potro and Khachanov have never played before, but it will be an intriguing encounter. Obviously del Potro, who still has a tendency to slice his backhand or push it rather than drive it to spare that surgically-repaired right wrist, has a clear weakness that Khachanov doesn’t, but he has got very good at protecting that wing. It will be a clear battle of big serves with both men maneouvring to unleash their big forehand first – something that del Potro has years of experience at doing. The conditions in Auckland could trouble his ball toss, but if del Potro can deliver a similar serving performance to the one he produced against Shapovalov, he should be able to book his place in his first ATP World Tour semifinal of 2018. 

Del Potro vs Khachanov is scheduled on court in Auckland on Thursday at 7pm local/6am GMT 

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Juan Martin del Potro vs Karen Khachanov ASB Classic tennis live: Del Potro bids for first ATP semifinal of 2018 in Auckland

Can Juan Martin del Potro power through younger doppelganger Karen Khachanov for a place in the semifinals? ASB Classic tennis live from Auckland

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