Karen Khachanov
Karen Khachanov Image Credit: AFP

Karen Khachanov slogged through almost three hours of tennis against Alex De Minaur on Court 1 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday.

His reward? A showdown with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Wednesday’s big-draw match in Garhoud.

The Russian hit the headlines last year by claiming Olympic silver at the Tokyo 2020 Games and had the crowds roaring him on in an epic battle against his Australian opponent in Dubai.

The world No. 28 looked to be well on his way as he eased to a 6-3 success in the opening set, but De Minaur levelled up in the second set tiebreak after a multitude of service breaks. The decider swung back and forward once more as De Minaur broke early, only to see his opponent strike back again and then nick it at the end. Khachanov found another gear to break and claim a 6-3, 6-7, 7-5 victory.

But there will be little in the way of rest and relaxation as he will be back in action on Wednesday against none other than 20-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic for a place in the quarter-finals.

Khachanov has only one ATP title to his name — the 2018 Paris Masters — and his best in Dubai was reaching the quarter-finals in 2020, where he was overwhelmed 6-2, 6-2 by — you guessed it — Djokovic.

However, Khachanov has shown his fighting qualities of late and reached the semi-finals on the Qatar Open in Doha last week, before going down to eventual champion Roberto Bautista Agut 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 in a thriller.

Djokovic is playing in his first tournament of the year and overcame wildcard Lorenzo Musetti in his opener - his first since his dramatic detention and deportation from Australia ahead of the Australian Open after falling foul of the country's strict Covid vaccine rules.

No. 4 seed Jannik Sinner had to stave off two match points against Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina before progressing in three sets 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 and set up a clash with wildcard Andy Murray. The two-time Wimbledon champion and double Olympic gold medallist from Scotland defeated Australian Christopher O’Connell in three tough sets on Monday and will be glad of an extra day’s rest before facing the Italian youngster.

At the age of 20, in November Sinner became the youngest Italian to crack the top 10 in the ATP rankings, he is the youngest five-time ATP Tour champion since Djokovic, and in reaching the French Open quarter-finals in 2020 at 19 he was the youngest player to reach that stage since Djokovic in 2006.

But still he struggled to overcome Davidovich Fokina, who broke in the final game of the first set and then held a 6-3 lead in the second set tiebreak before Sinner edged it 8-6. Then just one break of serve separated them in the final set.

“We have once again enjoyed great drama at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “Many matches are so closely fought and we have witnessed some outstanding battles which have swung first with one player and then the other. We can anticipate more such matches in the days ahead and look forward to finding who will progress to the final.”