“He (Karen Khachanov) will be in the top 20 by the end of 2015, and that’s my prediction,” says former world No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

The 39-year-old, a former Australian Open and French Open champion, knows what he is talking about. Kafelnikov made the statement after watching the 17-year-old Russian play in the Kremlin Cup in Moscow in October this year.

Ranked 449 in the world, Khachanov is playing the singles qualifiers of the 2014 Chennai Open that begins on Saturday, but he has been given a wild card to the doubles main draw with India’s Saketh Myneni.

In fact, Myneni and Khachanov met for the first time on Court No. 2 of the Nungambakkam Stadium only on Friday.

“I have been training in Pattaya (Thailand) along with Mikhail Youzhny, Sergiy Stakhovsky, Jurgen Zopp, among others, and we have come directly to Chennai to train for the Chennai Open,” says Khachanov.

The Russian, standing at 6’6’’, is focused on singles and it was obvious in the way he practised under the watchful eyes of coach Verdan Martic for nearly 120 minutes with Ukranian Illya Marchenko.

Khachanov emerged into the limelight in the Kremlin Cup upsetting higher-ranked players such as Albert Ramos (world-ranked 72) and Janko Tipsarevic (27) before losing to Ivo Karlovic in the quarterfinals. This is just the second ATP World Tour tournament and the third senior-level event of his career.

Well-grounded

The teenager though is well-grounded. “Compliments from stars are always pleasant. It’s better not to get carried away,” he says.

The win over Tipsarevic that day, is one that he still cherishes. “It was the best win of my career. I know I need to work harder to become a better player.”

Khachanov competed in his first ATP tournament in the St. Petersburg Open as a wild card in September 2013 and he didn’t disappoint, beating Victor Hanescu of Romania before losing in the second round to Lukas Rosol.

“I came to St. Petersburg after losing in the qualifying rounds of two Futures tournament in Croatia. It was a great experience. I played well,” he says.

Not completely out of the junior circuit, Khachanov is considering playing in the French Open and Wimbledon next year. The Russian is fully occupied after the Chennai Open.

“I have two Futures in Germany and I play the Davis Cup (against Poland) at the end of January,” says Khachanov, whose priority is to get to the top 200 by the end of 2014.

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