Novak Djokovic and Karen Khachanov had the opportunity to play three official matches in the last two years, with two wins for the Serb and one for the upcoming Russian. Novak and Karen are good friends off the court and they met at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Friday, with Djokovic scoring a 7-5, 6-3 victory to take the third place.
Novak lost serve only once and delivered three breaks to oust the rival in straight sets, battling hard in the opener before shifting into a higher gear to leave Karen behind. The Serb grabbed a break in the second game of the match with a backhand down the line winner, losing serve in the next game when his smash landed long to keep Karen on the positive side of the scoreboard.
Both players served well in the upcoming games, delivering easy points with the initial shot and standing strong after the first groundstroke for eight commanding holds and entertaining closure of the set. Out of sudden, Djokovic found the range on the return to grab a break at love in the 12th game with a return winner, taking the opener 7-5 after 40 minutes and hoping for more of the same in set number two.
There, Novak served well and kept the pressure on Karen, waiting for a chance on the return patiently and securing a break at love at 2-1 following a costly double fault from Khachanov, confirming the advantage in the next game and moving closer to the finish line.
The Russian delivered stunning tweener in the seventh game but it wasn't enough to keep him in contention, with Novak holding after a forehand attack and forging a 5-2 advantage. Karen reduced the deficit before Djokovic sealed the deal with a service winner in game nine, leaving Abu Dhabi with one win under his belt and continuing with preparations for the ATP Cup and the Australian Open.
"We did have fun and it was a good match as well, especially the first set which was quite close," Djokovic said. "I enjoy playing Karen, he's good friend off the court as well. He has a powerful game and I got what I came here for; two excellent matches that succeeded my plans here in Abu Dhabi."