World No. 1 and top seed Andy Murray continued to improve as he eased past the ATP #NextGen’s Karen Khachanov. The Russian had played some outstanding tennis to oust America’s John Isner, but found himself coming up short (which is quite the achievement when you are 6’6”) against a rapidly improving Murray.
The Brit did not have the greatest start to his clay court season. He was still struggling with the effects of an elbow injury that halted his US hard-court spring causing him to withdraw from his more favoured Miami.
He took his couple of matches in Monte Carlo as a positive despite defending semi-final points there, and his wildcard to Barcelona was probably the best part of his clay court preparation as Madrid and Rome were singularly unspectacular.
Even his first two rounds looked edgy but the Murray of old seemed to have returned in the battle against Juan Martin Del Potro, and Murray was clinical on his way his seventh Roland Garros quarter-final.
Khachanov at 21 is the youngest man to reach the R16 this year, impressed with heavy serving and real weight of shots, but his bid to be the youngest man to reach the quarter-finals on his debut since Rafael Nadal was doomed to failure.
Murray converted on his first break point chance and confidently went on to serve the set out to love. He broke early in the second set and when Khachanov took advantage of a loose game from the Brit to convert on his first chance, Murray steadied the ship immediately to break straight back to regain his advantage for the second set.
He kept the pressure on, forcing Khachanov to save three break points at the start of the third set, before breaking him, and once more when the Russian had the temerity to break him again, Murray kept his nerve, broke once more before wrapping up the match.
This is the form we had come to expect from Murray around this time last year, as he mounted his charge for the World No. 1 spot, and it could come at a more opportune time.
He said, after the match: I think today was probably the best I have played overall. It was difficult conditions. It was pretty windy out there. Wasn’t easy. But, yeah, each match I feel like I played better. I have hit the ball cleaner and started to see the right shots at the right moments. Yeah, come a long way the last ten days or so.”
Murray v Kei Nishikori 
While Murray remembered his loss to Kei Nishikori in the US Open last year, somewhat hilariously Nishikori had no recollection of the encounter, and give that Murray beat him later in the year at the World Tour Finals, there will be an element of revenge.
Nishikori overcame a bagel start to beat Fernando Verdasco in four sets, but it will remain to be seen how much that and his carried over third round match affect him as he looked mighty fatigued as he reached the quarter-final.
He had to come from a set down in his opener, and was taken to five sets by Hyeon Chung and so has had a bit of an up-and-down tournament, not to mention wrist issues that caused him to pull out of Madrid.
Nishikori is fleet of foot and his consistency, shot placement and angles when he is on his game can flummox the best of them – just ask Murray after the US Open quarter-final.
Murray said, of the match up: “Lost against him at US Open. He plays well on the clay, obviously. You know, very solid off both wings, Kei is dangerous off both wings. Moves well, quick.”
Nishikori paid a similar tribute – even if his memory was a touch shady about last year’s US Open quarter-final.
“We have been playing so many times. Yeah, he’s great player. Very smart tennis player. It’s never easy, and I think this week he’s been playing well and very — watching some matches. He’s hitting great balls. So I’m sure it’s gonna be tough one, but try to enjoy and try to win the match.
“Actually I’m very bad with the memories (smiling). I don’t even know if I win or lost. I won? I mean, always, you know, when we play, it’s always a battle. Sorry that I don’t remember much (smiling). Yeah, for sure, it’s gonna be a tough one.”
Prediction: Murray in four sets.
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