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Report: Korda retirement sends in-form Khachanov to next step

  • Dan Imhoff

Men's singles quarterfinal

A rejuvenated Karen Khachanov will contest his second straight Grand Slam semifinal after taking charge early before Sebastian Korda’s retirement with a wrist injury at the Australian Open on Tuesday.

MORE: All the scores from AO 2023

DRAW: Australian Open men's singles

Under a closed Rod Laver Arena roof, he repeated the feat when Korda called time on the match at 7-6(5) 6-3 3-0.

“I think I kind of reinvented myself. I would say I always believe in myself but there are always ups and downs and sometimes when you have those great results it just shows you what you are capable of and then you start to believe more and more,” Khachanov said.

“So, this belief and self-confidence, I think, is much stronger after the US Open. I made it here to the semifinals, so I just hope to continue that way and to grow as a person and a sportsman.”

The build-up

It had taken the 26-year-old 23 majors before his triumph over Nick Kyrgios at Flushing Meadows sent him through to the last four for the first time.

Korda was attempting to become the first American since Andy Roddick 14 years ago to reach the Australian Open semifinals, 25 years after his father, Petr, won the men’s final.

Pedigree inevitably set the bar high with both parents former Czech tennis professionals, but Korda said the only expectations from both were to learn from the tough moments and move on.

One such moment came against Khachanov in the fourth round at Wimbledon two years ago, when Korda fell 10-8 in the fifth set.

He claimed both subsequent encounters between the pair last year.

At AO 2023, Korda closed out two-time Australian Open finalist Daniil Medvedev and then 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz to reach his maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal, while former world No.8 Khachanov completed the career set of Grand Slam quarterfinals with his fourth-round defeat of Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.

The story of the match

In a tussle between the 198cm (6’6”) Khachanov and the 196cm (6’5”) Korda, it was imperative both kept their big-hitting opponent on the move and stretched beyond their comfort zone.

Under the roof, it was 18th seed Khachanov who managed to do so from the off.

He cantered to 3-0 in just 10 minutes and showed great wheels to scramble for a well-placed drop shot and then punched the volley clear for 4-1.

Khachanov’s only loose game of the set came when serving at 5-3 and his woes were only compounded when Korda peppered the baseline to level.

Sebastian Korda (Getty Images)

Deep into the tiebreak, two set points went awry – one on a 27-shot rally – before Khachanov ended a bruising exchange on a laser- accurate backhand down the line.

It was a worrying omen for Korda.

Khachanov was victorious in 19 of his past 20 Grand Slam matches if he won the first set, with Kei Nishikori the only man to buck that trend, at Roland Garros in 2021.

With games on serve through the first five games of the second set, Korda’s hopes were further dented when he called for treatment on his right wrist at 2-3.

It was all one-way traffic when a second break on Khachanov’s sixth forehand winner secured a two-set advantage after 99 minutes before Korda’s charge was over three games later.

Key stats

Khachanov was particularly impressive on serve throughout the first two sets as he claimed 80 per cent and 78 per cent of first-serve points, respectively.

Korda’s drop was notable on serve as he went from winning 82 per cent of first-serve points in the opening set, to just 50 per cent in the second.

What this means for Khachanov

Having made the semifinals at the US Open last year, prior to this campaign, Khachanov had never passed the third round at Melbourne Park in six attempts.

Karen Khachanov (Getty Images)

The 26-year-old has earned a shot at either third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas or Czech surprise Jiri Lehecka for his first Grand Slam final.

“For sure back-to-back semifinals in the Grand Slams feels great,” he said. “Obviously not the way you want to finish the match, but I think until a certain point it was very competitive, a very good battle.

“I'm feeling good to be honest. Really happy about my level, about the way I compete and looking forward to semifinals here in Australia for the first time.”

What next for Korda?

After career-defining wins over Medvedev and Hurkacz, the 22-year-old has every reason to leave Melbourne Park with his head held high.

Scans will determine the damage done to his wrist.

“I had it a little bit in Adelaide a couple weeks ago, but then it went away,” Korda said. “During the matches, it was completely fine. Then just one kind of miss-hit return, and it started to bother me a lot after that. It was in the second set, early.”

A new career-best ranking of world No.25 is assured, one place higher than his mother Regina Rajchrtova achieved.

“Obviously a lot of positives,” he said. “Still a great tournament. My first quarterfinal in a Grand Slam. You know, I'm going to go forward with my head high and keep working.”