Karen Khachanov and Diego Schwartzman meet for the first time since 2017 as they battle for a semi-final spot at the Erste Bank Open in Vienna on Friday.
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Schwartzman and Khachanov still habour slim hopes of qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals, as they occupy the 15th and 16th spots respectively in the Race to London, with 740 points separating Khachanov from eighth-placed Matteo Berrettini.
There are still points to be won across Basel and Vienna this week, while next week’s Paris Masters offer 1000 points to the champions…
Khachanov is the reigning Paris Masters champion, following his sensational run to the title last season, when he took out four top-ten players, including the top-ranked Novak Djokovic to claim his maiden Masters 1000 title. He has struggled to reach that level this season, as he did not make his first semi-final of 2019 until August.
He had a terrible start, failing to cross the first hurdle in eight of his opening ten tournaments, and while the results have improved since the latter part of the clay-court season, he has struggled to consistently maintain a high level. There have been flashes of brilliance through the season, like his quarter final at Roland Garros- a result that pushed him into the top-ten for the first time- and recent semi-finals in Montreal and Beijing- his only semis this season; but those performances have been too sparse through 2019.
He is looking to make another semi-final this week in Vienna, where he has already scored a 6-4 7-6 victory over Hubert Hurkacz in the first round, and taken out Marton Fucsovics, who unfortunately had to retire at 4-1 down in the final set, in the second round.
Can he make it three wins in a row by beating Schwartzman on Friday?
Like Khachanov, Schwartzman has also had an inconsistent season- he’s won a title in Los Cabos and made the quarter finals of the US Open, but he has also had his fair share of early exits. There was one particular eight-tournament stretch between Rio and Madrid when he failed to win back-to-back matches.
That notwithstanding, he has done enough to hold a top-15 position in both the ATP rankings and the Race to London heading into the final week of the regular season. Apart from his Los Cabos title and his US Open quarter final, Schwartzman’s other notable results this season were a runner-up finish in Buenos Aires and a semi-final in Rome.
His form heading into Vienna was not the greatest as he was on a three-match losing streak, but the Argentine has registered two wins in the Austrian capital, beating Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-4 6-4 in the first round, and Sam Querrey 6-7 6-4 7-6 in the second round to make his way into the last eight.
Schwartzman withstood 23 aces from Querrey, and was particularly effective on the American’s second serve, limiting his opponent to just 18 of 49 second serve points. He was good behind his own serve, winning 72% of points on his first serve and 66% on his second, saving two of the three break points he faced. The Argentine needed six match points in the end, but he eventually got over the line after two hours and 41 minutes.
He will now aim to reach his fifth semi-final of the season, with Khachanov standing in his way. Schwartzman and Khachanov have split their previous two matches, the Argentine winning in Miami in 2017, and the Russian responding in Cincinnati later that year. Both matches went three sets.
Neither player has consistently found his best form this season, and that unpredictability could be reflected in Friday’s contest, which could wind up into another lengthy rollercoaster.
Karen Khachanov vs Diego Schwartzman is live from Vienna on Friday, 25 October from 5:30pm local time/ 4:30pm BST