First encounters on a tennis court are always exciting. It doesn’t matter how many times you have seen your opponent play—there’s no way to know how your game will match up until you get out on the court and see it for yourself. They are especially interesting between two players as talented and established as Grigor Dimitrov and Karen Khachanov, who, despite competing on the ATP Tour together for nearly seven years, have never played each other before.
Luckily for Khachanov, the Erste Bank Open in Vienna is equipped with a fully electronic line-calling system. Last week in Antwerp, Khachanov understandably lost his cool after umpire Adel Nour made a costly mistake, overruling a shot on the baseline that Khachanov made by about six inches. The Russian has since calmed down, and issued a heartfelt apology.
“I didn’t want to insult anyone and act like this,” Khachanov stated. “I just couldn’t control my temper in those crucial moments… which in the end reflected on the result of the match.”
With so many wishy-washy quasi apologies floating around these days, it’s nice to see a player own up to his or her mistakes and take full responsibility.
On the court, Khachanov and Dimitrov match up extremely well. Both are incredible athletes and shotmakers with a powerful serve, but it will be interesting to see how Khachanov handles the Bulgarian’s exceptional slice backhand. Khachanov can beat anyone when given a nice rhythm, so Dimitrov would do well to deny him that.
Both players enter this meeting in similar form. Dimitrov is 7-3 in his last 10 matches while the Russian is 6-4. The court speed in Vienna will likely play a major factor. So far, it’s looked fairly quick, which will favor Dimitrov’s more penetrating groundstrokes while adding a bit more zip to his backhand slice. While Khachanov is no slouch on any surface, he owns a 37-33 career record indoors, and certainly benefits from a grittier surface, which helps his heavy western forehand and supreme kick serve. At 6'6", it's nearly impossible to bounce the ball out of the Russian's strike zone, so it would behoove Dimitrov to force him to bend down and spin the ball up over the net, instead of allowing him to hit down and through the court.
Judging by Dimitrov’s career 72-41 record indoors, the perfect conditions only assist his crystal-clear ball-striking and all-court prowess. Three of his eight titles have come on an indoor hard court. According to the oddsmakers, this match is a toss-up, with the Bulgarian listed as an ever-so-slight -125 favorite. It’s safe to expect an extremely close match, but in the end, Dimitrov’s variety and comfort indoors should serve him well.
The Pick: Grigor Dimitrov