Karen Khachanov launches his VTB Kremlin Cup title defence on Wednesday night against German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round.
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World No. 8 Karen Khachanov will have to snap a three-match losing run against Philipp Kohlschreiber if he is to begin his Kremlin Cup title defence in Moscow with a victory on Wednesday.
Khachanov’s brilliant late-season run in 2018 began in Moscow as he beat Daniil Medvedev en route to the Kremlin Cup title, with the Russian going on to defeat four top 10 players – including Novak Djokovic – to capture his maiden Masters 1000 title in Paris, which helped propel him into the world’s top 10. Those two results were part of a superb 2018 for Khachanov, who went 46-22 for the season, but the Russian hasn’t been able to repeat that effort in 2019, losing almost as many matches as he’s won, coming into Moscow with a 26-23 record.
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. Khachanov would also go on to lose his first match in St. Petersburg to Joao Sousa, but he did have a solid week in Beijing, defeating Fabio Fognini on his way to the semi-finals, where Dominic Thiem edged him in a tight three-setter.
However, Khachanov couldn’t build on that run, losing to Fognini in the Round of 16 in Shanghai last week, and that’s basically been the story of his season – failing to generate any sort of momentum. With a truckload of points to defend over the next month and his spot in the top 10 on the line, can Khachanov find his best tennis in Moscow?
He begins his title defence against a man who has beaten him in their last three meetings. Philipp Kohlschreiber has a solid 10-7 record at the Kremlin Cup, reaching the semi-finals twice and the quarter-finals on a further three occasions. The German won his first match at the tournament since 2016 in the opening round, earning a straight sets victory over the big-serving Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Kohlschreiber has been a fantastic player for a long time now, consistently popping up as a threat in big tournaments for over a decade, maintaining a ranking mostly between 20-40 for most of his professional career, owning scalps over the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick, winning eight career titles and hitting a career-high mark of No. 16 in 2012 after making his one and only Grand Slam quarter-final at Wimbledon. The 35-year-old proved he still has the game to trouble the very best earlier in 2019, defeating Djokovic to make the fourth round at Indian Wells, but Kohlschreiber has struggled with his consistency for the most part this season, coming into Moscow with an 18-19 record and at No. 75 in the world, with his last three tournaments coming at Challenger level after a first round loss at the U.S. Open to Lucas Pouille.
As mentioned, Kohlschreiber has won their last three encounters, including earlier this year on the clay of Munich, while he also won an indoor hardcourt match in Rotterdam last year. It’s another great chance for Kohlschreiber, but he’s been below his best for a while now and Khachanov should be able to raise his level at home in Moscow as the defending champion.