Paris Masters champion from 2018, Karen Khachanov couldn't keep the same pace in the season behind us, embracing a mediocre 30-29 score but staying in the top-20 for the second year in a row. Making his second appearance at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, Karen has the opportunity to test his skills against the world's finest rivals, losing to Rafael Nadal in the semi-final on Friday and facing Novak Djokovic in the battle for the third place on Saturday.
The Russian couldn't do much against Nadal but will use this event to check where his game currently stands ahead of the new season, praising the entire Mubadala field and especially Nadal against whom he had some intense battles in the past, especially at the US Open 2018.
Here in Abu Dhabi, the Spaniard produced a 6-1, 6-3 triumph, dominating on both serve and return and crumbling Karen with a perfect mixture of rock-solid defense and net rushings. Khachanov fought better in the second set but it wasn't to be for him, getting broken twice and propelling Rafa into the title clash against Stefanos Tsitsipas.
"It was a difficult match because Rafa played extremely well, but that is why I play these kinds of matches, to see how my game is and how I deal with the pressure," Khachanov said. "I'm thrilled I had the chance to play against Rafa at this level.
I have one more match against Novak - no. 1 then no. 2 - these are the best encounters I could get. The field of the players here is really strong and even when you lose, you learn more than you would during a normal practice session in more relaxed conditions.
I'm always encouraged to play against Nadal, there is always unbelievable intensity, which I like. I really admire him as a hard-working player, and I like his intense shots and movement. We've had some good matches with a good level of tennis, so let's see how it goes tomorrow."