When Karen Khachanov steps onto the court in the opening rubber of Russia’s Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Europe/Africa Zone Group I relegation play-off, it will signal an important moment for Russian tennis – he will become their youngest ever Davis Cup player.
At 17 years and 157 days old, he takes the mantle of youngest player away from Mikhail Youzhny, who was 17 years 224 days old when he made his debut in 2000. Khachanov would surely love to have a similar impact on the tournament to Youzhny, who was involved in one of the great matches in Davis Cup history when he came back from two sets down to defeat Paul-Henri Mathieu in the decisive fifth rubber of the 2002 World Group Final.
However, while Youzhny came into a team challenging for the title, Khachanov has a very different challenge ahead of him, starting with helping his nation avoid relegation to Zone Group II.
The 6’6” Khachanov rose nearly 300 places in the rankings last week after he reached the quarterfinals of Moscow, defeating Albert Ramos and Janko Tipsarevic before losing to Ivo Karlovic. His impressive performances led to former world No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov to announce “He will be Top 20 by end of 2015, and that’s my prediction.” He also caused a stir back in September when he defeated Victor Hanescu in the first round of St Petersburg.
On the Junior Circuit, Khachanov has had a good year and currently holds a combined ranking of 19. In July he won the European Junior Championships. He has also reached at least the second round in each of the last three Junior Grand Slams. The Russian has also played two Futures events this year, in which his best result was reaching the round of 16 in the Croatia F1 Futures event back in February.
Khachanov faces another debutant on Friday in the form of Dean O’Brien. The two have a similar ATP ranking, 513 for Khachanov and 563 for O’Brien, and both will be desperate to get their Davis Cup careers off to the best possible start.