Trailing a set and gasping for breath after several scintillating rallies against Mackenzie McDonald, Karen Khachanov posed to soak in the applause in Zhuhai on Sunday.
The competitiveness of his 4-6 6-4 6-4 triumph over McDonald and the crowd’s response throughout their Huafa Properties Zhuhai Championships quarterfinal delighted him.
It is these experiences the Pepperstone ATP Rankings No.15 missed the most during his absence from the tour following a semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros.
“I was missing the energy of the crowd. Here today, it was almost full, and I always enjoy playing in front of people in full stadiums, so I was really missing it,” he said.
“I am mentally ready. I had a kind of unexpected vacation (and) now I'm motivated,determined, excited to be back playing and trying to bring on this game again.”
The No.1 seed need wait only another day to experience a similar challenge and atmosphere given he meets American Seb Korda in a semi-final in China on Monday.
It will be the fifth meeting between the pair and if their history and recent form in Zhuhai is a guide, it shapes as an intriguing clash in a tournament resplendent with superb matches.
Khachanov edged Korda in a thrilling five set encounter at Wimbledon in 2021 and was leading their Australian Open quarterfinal this year when the American retired injured.
Korda, who claimed his second victory in as many months over Tomas Martin Etcheverry 6- 1 6-2 in a quarterfinal on Sunday, defeated Khachanov in Cincinnati and Antwerp last year. The combatants have experienced similar seasons, having played superbly at times only to be stricken with significant injuries when within range of career-best achievements.
Khachanov said his rival, who hopes to break into the top 20 by the end of the season, is an astute tactician who dissects matches well when at the peak of his game.
“When he is on and he brings his flat shots and his A-game, he has a really, really great perspective and is a tough opponent,” Khachanov said.
“He serves well. He moves well. He returns well. It is tough to find a weakness. But that is what I will have to look for tomorrow against him.”
Korda, who has also reached the doubles semi-finals with McDonald, has loved his first trip to China and is revelling on the quick courts at the Hengqin International Tennis Center.
“We’ve had some good matches so far. I am sure tomorrow will be another good, fun match,” Korda said.
“We have a 2-2 record so far, so it is a big one for us. A spot in the finals is where we want to be and I am very excited for it.”
Khachanov, who returned to the top 10 briefly in June and resumed with an opening round loss at the US Open, has enjoyed a busy week since his arrival in Zhuhai.
Aside from his victories over Alex Bolt and McDonald, the father-of-two participated in a school visit and has also offered advice to talented young Chinese players.
The angular right-hander said he enjoyed mixing with young people and hoped that he might be able to provide an insight or example that could help their careers.
“It was really, really cool. I have two kids now as well and I think if I can inspire more kids around the world, I'm just really happy to be able to deliver and to do it,” he said.
“I think that's most important. The next generation, they like to see tennis on the court … but it is not only about winning or losing.
“It is the way you act, being polite, these things are the most important. If I can deliver this and be … not an idol, but a person they can look to, I would be very happy.”