By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Tipped to challenge the Grand Slam dominance of the old guard of men’s tennis at the Australian Open, Russian young gun Karen Khachanov was instead left hanging his head after a stinging third-round loss to Roberto Bautista Agut on Friday.
The 22-year-old 10th seed was sent packing after a 6-4 7-5 6-4 defeat to Spaniard Bautista Agut, who has continued his fine start after knocking out injured former world number one Andy Murray in the first round.
Having stunned Novak Djokovic to win the Paris Masters in November, the hard-hitting Muscovite was rated one of the “5 Players” to challenge the Serbian favourite at Melbourne Park by the ATP’s website.
However, he will head off after squandering a favourable draw and a good chance to crack his maiden Grand Slam quarter-finals.
“I’m a little bit ashamed of my attitude today,” Khachanov told Reuters ruefully at Melbourne Park.
“That could be better. But again, I couldn’t manage this during the match. Now I see it more clear, but it was too late.
“It wasn’t about fighting, I wanted to play good, I wanted to win, but it was just about showing emotions.
“When you are angry, when you are scared, it takes away a little bit of concentration and a little bit of focus and it (showed).”
Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal won all four of the Grand Slams between them last year, shutting out the next generation from the game’s biggest prizes.
Third seed Federer claimed a second successive title in Melbourne, second seed Nadal his 11th French Open crown and Djokovic swept Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
There was some cheer for ‘Next Gen’ players on Friday, with American Frances Tiafoe reaching the last 16 along with fellow 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.
The more experienced Khachanov will not be among the young thrusters pushing deep into the Grand Slam, until at least the French Open.
“I don’t think it’s Grand Slam nerves,” he said. “It’s the first Grand Slam of the year, I think the other matches I played better.
“I think my game in general, there is always something to improve.
“Everything is a positive if you go forward with a clear mind.”
Khachanov said he was still happy to be talked about as one of the tour’s ‘next big things’ — a title that has previously weighed heavily on players such as Nick Kyrgios and Grigor Dimitrov.
“Yes, I am. Why not?” he shrugged.
(Editing by Toby Davis)