Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Tennis: Top gun Karen Khachanov set to fire and okay with Marat Safin comparison

Russian Karen Khachanov doesn't mind being compared to Marat Safin, in fact, he's happy with it. Photo / AP
Russian Karen Khachanov doesn't mind being compared to Marat Safin, in fact, he's happy with it. Photo / AP

Russian young gun Karen Khachanov is often compared to Marat Safin - and doesn't mind at all.

In fact, he seems to enjoy it.

Khachanov, who is in action on today at the ASB Classic, is one of the hottest prospects on the ATP tour. The 20-year-old has risen almost 400 places in less than three years and now sits at No53 in the world. He is 1.98m tall and has a huge serve, which has prompted the inevitable comparisons with compatriot Safin.

"Why is it annoying?" said Khachanov, when asked if he was irked by the constant "next Safin" references. "He was one of the best tennis players in Russia, with [Yevgeny] Kafelnikov at the time. He was one of my favourite players that I was watching on TV while I was growing up so I like his game."

Khachanov admits he has modelled his style closely on Safin, who won two grand slams and reached two other major finals.

"Obviously I look at the players that have similar aspects as me - also tall guys," said Khachanov. "I have to play the same way - more aggressive - [and] it's good to hear that someone is comparing me with an ex-No1 in the world."

Safin was also infamous for his life off the court, especially in the latter stages of his career, where partying seemed to take precedence over practice. Khachanov has a more level-headed approach, and a focus on constant improvement that can see him serve up to 400 times a day.

"I work hard and at same point hard work pays off," said Khachanov. "You never know when it is going to happen and in which tournament you will play better. That's why you have to try to be focused every week and to do 100 percent and then some of the weeks you will perform better."

So far the recipe is working. In 2014, Khachanov relocated to Barcelona, and began working with Galo Blanco, the coach who took Milos Raonic from the outside the top 150 to world No3, and made Canada forget about Ice Hockey for a while.

Khachanov rose 100 places over the last year, and won his first ATP final in Chengdu. In 2016 he also beat world No 14 (and defending ASB Classic champion) Roberto Bautista Agut in Barcelona, and claimed other top 30 scalps Feliciano Lopez and Philipp Kohlschreiber during the year.

"Every week you want to perform, you want to win every tournament otherwise you are not coming," said Khachanov. "I want to be as good as I can and try to increase my rankings as much as possible."

- NZ Herald

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