Karen Khachanov played Lucas Pouille in the Open 13 Provence final on Sunday. Following an intense match, the Russian defeated the Frenchman 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 in 1 hour and 49 minutes, ensuring Pouille missed out on the title for the second year in a row.
Karen Khachanov is destined for greatness - his opponents in Marseille have all said so. Julien Benneteau, who lost to the Russian in the quarter-final, said, "He plays really well. I think he'll be in the top 10 one day." He certainly is a strong server and a big hitter. But, as the crowd witnessed at the 25th Open 13 Provence tournament, he also has a real desire to win.
Walking out onto Centre Court on Sunday, Khachanov was looking for victory. Up to that point, he had lost no sets in the tournament, as if he was in a hurry to get to the final after winning his last title in October 2016 in Chengdu, China.
Lucas Pouille, however, was never going to be a walkover. He knows what it is like to play at the Palais des Sports, having lost here to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the 2017 final. The French player was looking to avoid a repeat performance at all costs.
The match did not get off to an auspicious start. Pouille dropped the first set 7-5 and the crowd, out in force for the French favourite, started entertaining its first doubts. But Lucas did not give up: pushing the intensity up a notch, he dominated the second set, taking it 6-3.
In the third and final set, Khachanov and Pouille kept up a punishing rhythm. The match came down to a few points at the end of the set, when the score was 6-5 to Khachanov. Up to that point, both players had been serving excellently, with Khachanov racking up a total of 59 aces since the start of the tournament. The pressure was on Lucas to hold his serve. Karen got one match point, which Pouille successfully defended, then a second, which he did not. He fell to the Russian 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 after 1 hour and 49 minutes of play.
"I'm happy," said Khachanov after his victory. "A second title brings happiness but I still have to keep working." For a player aiming to be world no.1, his serious attitude should come as no surprise.
Pouille will have to wait until next year before he has another chance at the Open 13 Provence title. "Of course it's disappointing, but that's tennis. On the positive side, the final was a great match between two aggressive players who both tried to set the pace. It came down to a few points, and it just wasn't my day. But I've had a great week."
It was also a great week for the Open 13 Provence. The nail-biting final more than made up for the withdrawal of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Goffin. The tournament's 25th year will go down as one of its finest.