Now a perfect 15-0 in 2020, Novak Djokovic aims to continue his winning streak as he takes on Karen Khachanov in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Djokovic vs Khachanov is live from Dubai on Thursday 27 February at 7pm local/3pm GMT
Djokovic still has some way to go before he matches his best ever start to the season, which came in 2011 when he went 41-0 (!) to begin the year, not losing his first match until he faced Roger Federer in the semifinals of the French Open in June. But he is now one win away from equaling his 16-0 beginning to the 2012 season, which saw him win the Australian Open and Dubai and reach the semifinals of Indian Wells before losing to Juan Martin del Potro; and he has bettered his 14-0 start to 2016, which ended when he retired against Feliciano Lopez in the quarterfinals in Dubai.
That was Djokovic’s last appearance in Dubai, which he has won four times, opting for the past two years not to play an event between the Australian Open and Indian Wells.
So far Djokovic’s return to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships has been as triumphant as expected. Whatever slight rust he might have showed in the first round, when he beat Malek Jaziri 6-1, 6-2, his performance against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round was superlative. While Kohlschreiber trails 2-12 in the overall head-to-head vs Djokovic and is currently ranked world no. 80, he did beat Djokovic in their last encounter at Indian Wells in 2019 and it was incumbent upon Djokovic to rise to the occasion. He did, playing a frankly almost perfect match in which he committed just ten unforced errors, breaking midway through the first set and completely dominating the second for a 6-3, 6-1 win in just 61 minutes.
‘It was a great performance. I enjoyed the way I played, coming out with the right focus and tactics.
‘Knowing Philipp beat me 12 months ago in Indian Wells, I needed to approach this match very seriously regardless of his ranking. He is one of the most experienced players on the tour and likes to play on the big stage, so he doesn’t falter too much.’
Now 15-0 in 2020 and 38-6 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Djokovic bids for a sweet sixteenth singles win this year as he takes on Karen Khachanov in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Khachanov is making his fourth appearance in Dubai, but has never won back-to-back matches before.
The powerful Russian has not had the toughest route through the draw so far – he opened against veteran Mikhail Kuksuhkin, winning 7-6(2), 6-1 before ousting qualifier Dennis Novak 6-3, 6-4, a win which gave him plenty of time to come up with a foolproof plan for beating Djokovic:
— Karen Khachanov (@karenkhachanov) February 26, 2020
Khachanov, like Kohlschreiber, trails in the head-to-head but has a win over Djokovic – in Khachanov’s case, scored at the Paris Masters in 2018, which was also the scene of the Russian’s biggest career triumph to date as he won his maiden Masters 1000 Series title.
Khachanov went on to break into the top 10 in 2019 after he reached the quarterfinals of the French Open, and he was also a semifinalist at the Canada Masters and in Beijing, but otherwise his season didn’t really live up to the expectations set at the end of 2018 and he dropped back out of the top 10 as soon as he failed to defend his Paris Masters points, losing in the first round to Jan-Lennard Struff.
It’s not been a terrible start to 2020 for Khachanov, but not a mind-blowing one either: He went 4-1 at the ATP Cup (not against the most impressive opposition) and narrowly lost to Nick Kyrgios in the third round of the Australian Open, which was fine, but did not particularly impress with a 1-2 showing in Rotterdam and Marseille.
‘I’ve had some interesting battles with him. He is a great guy, a very powerful player.
‘He is one of the guys who is a contender to be top 5, top 10. He is very dedicated, so hopefully I’ll be as sharp as I have been in the past two matches and start well.’
This will be the first meeting between Djokovic and Khachanov on an outdoor hard court, but I think their Paris Masters match will prove to have been an outlier. Look for Djokovic to record the same kind of dominant win he did in their two other meetings, and book his place in the semifinals in Dubai.