World No. 9 Karen Khachanov starts his quest for a first title of the season on Monday night at the Erste Bank Open in Vienna against Winston-Salem champion Hubert Hurkacz in the first round.
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In desperate need of wins before his upcoming Paris Masters title defence, the out-of-form Karen Khachanov has been dealt a tough opening round at the ATP 500 Erste Bank Open in Vienna on Monday night against the rising Hubert Hurkacz.
Khachanov doesn’t have a great record in Vienna either, failing to improve on his debut quarter-final finish in 2016, losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the opening round in 2017 and Kei Nishikori in the second round last year. The Russian returns as a top 10 player and the second seed in 2019 – and for a 500-level tournament, he has a great draw to reach the final, with Diego Schwartzman, Guido Pella and Gael Monfils the only other seeded players in his half, but Khachanov will need significant improvement if he is even going to survive his opening round.
It’s been an extremely disappointing year for Khachanov, who went 46-22 last year and ended 2018 on the highest of highs, beating four top 10 players – including Novak Djokovic – to win his maiden Masters 1000 title in Paris, while he also won the 250 event in Moscow, with those results helping him break into the top 10.
However, Khachanov is only 27-24 for 2019, and with his Paris Masters champion points set to drop off shortly, the Russian will be battling to stay inside the top 20, let alone the top 10. Illness played a part at the start of the season, but Khachanov isn’t anywhere near the level he ended 2018, with his only semi-finals coming at the Canada Masters, where he beat Alexander Zverev, and the China Open in Beijing, while he also made the quarter-finals of Roland Garros. The 23-year-old has lost his opening match at 12 tournaments this season, including at the U.S. Open, where he went down in five sets to World No. 216 Vasek Pospisil, while his Moscow title defence ended rather meekly last week in the quarter-finals against Andreas Seppi.
With time running out before his Paris Masters title defence, can Khachanov recapture his best tennis for a deep run in Vienna this week?
He’ll have his work cut out for him against Hubert Hurkacz, who is making his Vienna debut this week and playing his first tournament since a Round of 16 finish at the Shanghai Masters to Stefanos Tsitsipas, with the Pole going down in a deciding set tiebreak after previous wins over Zhizhen Zhang and World No. 11 Gael Monfils.
Ranked No. 238 in the world at the start of 2018, Hurkacz put together an outstanding breakout season on tour last year, with the Polish player currently ranked No. 35 in the world after peaking at No. 33 earlier this month. Hurkacz scored his first tour-level win after qualifying for the French Open last year and beating Tennys Sandgren in the opening round of the main draw before falling to Marin Cilic in four sets, while he would go on to claim Challenger titles in Poznan and Brest and qualify for the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan to end the season in the top 100.
Hurkacz has improved that ranking by 65 spots so far in 2019, taking home the Canberra Challenger at the start of the season before beating Kei Nishikori at back-to-back tournaments in Dubai and Indian Wells to reach the quarter-finals of both, with the latter doubling as his first Masters 1000 quarter-final appearance. The 22-year-old also made the Round of 16 at the Madrid Masters and quarter-finals in Eastbourne, along with the third round of Wimbledon and R16 at the Canada Masters, where he scored his fourth top 10 win of the season over Tsitsipas. Hurkacz continued to break new ground as he won his maiden ATP title in Winston-Salem, beating the likes of Frances Tiafoe, Denis Shapovalov and Benoit Paire along the way, but he went on a three-match losing streak after that, posting his first wins since Winston-Salem in Shanghai.
This will be the first career meeting between the pair, and with Khachanov playing the way he is and down on confidence, this is a great chance for Hurkacz to pick up a fifth top 10 scalp of 2019. Khachanov has a marginally bigger game when at his best, but the Russian has given no indication he’ll be able to produce it in Vienna. If Hurkacz can play his best tennis, he’s arguably the favourite to prevail on Monday night.