2017 Barcelona Open R16 Preview: David Goffin vs Karen Khachanov

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Russian Karen Khachanov bids for his second straight seeded upset when he battles 5th seeded David Goffin on Thursday. Khachanov upended 11th seed Pablo Cuevas yesterday in a pair of tiebreak sets.

(5) David Goffin vs Karen Khachanov

Goffin had a bit of a struggle despite the scoreline in his opening match. The Belgian would beat Nikoloz Basilashvili 7-5, 6-0, surviving a shaky first set. Goffin lost 11 of 20 points on his first serve in the opening set as Basilashvili broke him three times. Basilashvili was worse; broken four times in the set with the 5th seed winning 23 of the 41 points played off his opponent’s serve. The second set saw a steadier Goffin and an even worse Basilashvili. It was bagel service with Goffin breaking him three times and tidying up on his own serve. Goffin did not face a break chance in set two, winning 12 of 16 service points.

Khachanov again proved to be a dangerous customer in Barcelona. The 20-year-old Russian scored perhaps his best career win last year at the Barcelona Open, when he knocked out Roberto Bautista Agut in three sets in the second round. RBA was ranked 17th at the time and that still ranks as the highest ranked scalp of the Russian’s young career. On Tuesday, Khachanov claimed another seeded scalp in Barcelona.

This time, it was 11th seed Pablo Cuevas. Khachanov came up with the tight win 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5). Khachanov battled back from a break down in set two to set up the decisive tiebreak, where he again came away better in the biggest points. The match featured two breaks of serve by each player and the Russian won just two more points than Cuevas (79 to 77) for the match.

Second Meeting of the Season

These two will square off for the second time in 2017. They met at Indian Wells in March with Goffin prevailing 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Both players crafted plenty of chances off their opponent’s serve. Goffin was able to save seven of eleven break chances, while Khachanov saved nine of 14 chances. One of the biggest issues in the match for the Russian was a puny second serve. Goffin bashed it for 24 points off of 36 second serves put into play. Khachanov put himself into position to win the match with a break for a 3-2 lead in set three, but it was Goffin who stormed back as he won the final four games of the match.

The surface switch from hard courts when they first met to clay in Barcelona won’t aid Khachanov’s big game any better than it did in Indian Wells. Khachanov has had success in batches on clay at the Challenger level, but is still proving himself at the ATP level on clay. It’s not that he can’t win on this surface. He does sport a winning record, but his best results have come on hard courts where his bigger game has done more damage. Khachanov has said he likes slower conditions though, so this is a proving ground for him to show that he has the goods to beat top tier players.

Stratego

So what can make the difference for Khachanov this time as he battles a Top Ten player for the second time in his career? I think quite simply, the experience of having played Goffin once before and having had him on the ropes. Mentally, he needs an edge going into this one. There are two schools of thought from the first meeting though; one says he’ll be confident having pushed ahead of Goffin in the third. The other will say he could be nervy as he was in the final four games that Goffin used to rally for that win. The Russian knows he needs to serve better this time around and take better advantage of Goffin’s service wobbles. And those wobbles do come for Goffin as evidenced against Basilashvili on Tuesday.

For Khachanov to entertain thoughts of an upset, he must consolidate the breaks he gets. Goffin is among the peskiest players on tour. He doesn’t give in, even when he’s broken multiple times. If you don’t protect your serve against him, you’re toast. It will be imperative that Khachanov reduce the number of break chances that Goffin sees from their first meeting. Double digits aren’t likely to win the race without some miraculous saves from the Russian.

Off the ground, Khachanov still has to try and capitalize on his power advantage. The Russian is going to try and obliterate as many forehands as he can. I would expect Goffin to try to target the backhand more in an effort to make Khachanov work harder to win points. Khachanov has a decent backhand, but it’s not the shot maker that his forehand is at this stage of his career.

Goffin’s basic game plan will obviously utlize his best traits; speed and defense. If Goffin doesn’t test Khachanov’s movement by sending him across the court in rallies as much as possible, I will be stunned. The Russian is a decent mover, but he’s not as quick as Goffin and not as fluid in his movement from end to end and side to side. The more running that Khachanov does, the more Goffin puts the kung-fu grip onto a win in this one. Tired legs equal tired serves and that is where the Russian cannot find himself in this one or it’s an uphill battle that he’s not going to win most days.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I do think Khachanov is one of those up and coming young players and he’s started getting more wins of late after a rough start to the season. Confidence can do wonders for you and the win over Cuevas will aid the brain heading into this one. Goffin is not unbeatable by any stretch. His lack of an above average serve will always allow quality opponents some opportunity. The question is whether they can take advantage and not give the breaks right back against his elite returning and defending.

I’m no sure Khachanov possesses the all-around consistency yet that is needed to beat someone like Goffin. Certainly Goffin can have a bit off an off-day and Khachanov is definitely good enough to take advantage. Still, in this situation I think Khachanov will push Goffin … but ultimately, expect the fifth seed to survive.

Prediction: Goffin wins in three sets

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