Djokovic, a record four-time champion at the indoor event, looked out of energy after an epic three-hour semifinal win against Roger Federer on Saturday.
After also being taken to three sets by Marin Cilic in Friday’s quarterfinals, Djokovic’s semifinal finished at around 8 p.m. local time, and he felt he was unable to recover sufficiently from that draining encounter.
“I didn’t unfortunately. But I don’t want to talk about that,” Djokovic said. “I want to talk about how well (Khachanov) played all week and absolutely deserved to win today.”
Asked again whether it was a case of emotional fatigue, after such an intense tussle with Federer, Djokovic repeated his praise for Khachanov.
“Karen played really well, and he deserved to win,” Djokovic said. “All the credit to him.”
Although Djokovic broke in the fourth game to move 3-1 up and then led 30-0 on serve, the unseeded Khachanov broke him straight back, and the momentum abruptly shifted away from Djokovic.
“I stepped in more inside the court,” Khachanov said. “I started to move him, and maybe he didn’t expect that I could do it after being down 3-1 with a break.”
Djokovic seemed agitated at times and twice turned to his box to remonstrate about an unspecified issue during the first set.
Khachanov broke for 6-5 when he hit a powerful shot down the line that Djokovic could only scoop back into the net. The Russian won the first set with a big first serve that Djokovic could not return, stretching out his racket in vain as the fizzing ball clipped the frame.
Djokovic struggled to handle Khachanov’s brutal two-handed, cross-court backhands from the baseline, which often landed near his ankles, and dropped his serve again to trail 2-1 in the second set. He had to save three more break points in the seventh game to hold for 4-3 down.
“He was playing big from the back of the court, flat backhands, and forehand. He can really hurt you,” Djokovic said. “His serve is really, really strong and precise.”
After both players held to love, Khachanov showed no nerves — even though he was in his first Masters final — and served out the match.
He secured victory on his first match point when Djokovic chopped a backhand return wide. The imposing Khachanov thrust both his arms in the air and, moments later, knelt down to kiss the court.
“It’s a breakthrough season. And this title, it’s a good year-end I would say,” Khachanov said. “Maybe I’m not crying, but still I’m really happy.”
Djokovic will return to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time in two years on Monday, but the Serb will be disappointed at missing out on a 73rd career title, having withstood the best of Federer on Saturday.
Still, the Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion has plenty to feel good about after a 22-match winning streak, and he remains favorite for the season-ending ATP Finals in London, beginning Nov. 11.
“I’m satisfied of course and I’m going to be No. 1 tomorrow. What more can I ask for? I mean, I won 20-plus matches in a row and had a most amazing last five months,” he said. “I’m getting into (the) season finale feeling good about my game.”
The 22-year-old Khachanov, ranked 18th, is the first Russian to win here since Nikolay Davydenko in 2006. Marat Safin won it three times before that.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Safin won the last of his Paris Masters titles in 2004, when Khachanov was a young boy.
“I watched (Safin’s) matches but later, not at the age of eight,” he said. “I’m just really proud of myself that I could be in this list of winners.”
Khachanov added this title to the Kremlin Cup in Moscow last month for his third title of the year and fourth overall.
He had won his previous three finals, and said his 100 percent record helped him when he stepped on the court against the 14-time Grand Slam champion.
“I was thinking, ‘OK, (Djokovic) has, I don’t know, 70 titles and I have three,’” Khachanov said. “But 3-0, you know? So maybe it was in the back of my mind.”
Novak Djokovic’s Epic 3- Hour Battle With Roger Federer
Novak Djokovic’s latest victory over Roger Federer was among the toughest and best in their epic rivalry, a 7-6 (6), 5-7, 7-6 (3) feast of attacking tennis which had the roaring crowd on their feet and remained in doubt until the very end.
It finally ended, after three hours, when Djokovic moved 6-1 up in the tiebreaker. Federer saved two match points but cracked in a long rally and chopped a backhand into the net.
“We had epic matches throughout our rivalry but this one definitely ranks as one of the best,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic’s fourth straight win over Federer and 25th in 47 contests sends him into the final against unseeded Russian Karen Khachanov, who has never played in a Masters final.
“This is my best match of the year, that’s for sure,” Djokovic said, addressing the crowd in French. “Big respect to Roger.”
Federer remains one short of 100 career titles.
“When you lose a close match like this you always have regrets,” a disappointed Federer said. “That’s why I guess I have this face right now.”
Djokovic is on a 22-match winning streak and will aim to move level with Rafael Nadal on a record 33 Masters titles.
“Novak is obviously on a roll,” Federer said. “You can feel it.”
Khachanov, who beat Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-1, won the Kremlin Cup in Moscow last month for his third career title.
Djokovic, who beat him on the way to the Wimbledon title, is seeking a record-extending fifth Paris Masters title and 73rd title overall.
He was made to work far harder than when he beat Federer in the Cincinnati Masters final in August.
After they hugged at the net, Federer walked off quickly and raised a thumb to the cheering crowd.
“People enjoy the rivalry. We do as well,” Federer said. “It’s tough and fair, the way it’s supposed to be.”
Fans got everything they could have hoped for: Two players with a combined 34 Grand Slam titles, 59 Masters titles, and 533 weeks at No. 1 slugging it out at a level of unrelenting yet sublime intensity.
Brilliant one-handed winners on the run from Federer down the line and acute-angle volleys at the net; astonishing elasticity while retrieving from the baseline and laser-beam forehands to the corners from Djokovic.
Federer had 17 aces, while Djokovic got five of his eight in his last three service games of the match, raising his level at the right time.
Djokovic briefly let his volatile temper get the better of him, though, when he had Federer at 15-40 down in the ninth game of the deciding set. Federer saved both break points, and Djokovic whacked his racket into the ground, drawing the first and only boos of a titanic match.
Djokovic held his hands up as if to apologize to the unforgiving crowd, unhappy that a pique of rage interrupted their gourmet feast of tennis.
Brimming with confidence in a season which has seen him go from No. 22 in the rankings in May to No. 1 when they are released on Monday, and in which he also added the U.S. Open to his Grand Slam haul, Djokovic created pressure throughout.
But Federer saved every break point — 12 of them — and secured the only break of the match in clinching the second set.
“Hasn’t happened too many times that I don’t break a serve of anyone, especially if I have 12 break points,” Djokovic said. “Most of the break points he just served well, and played great shots.”
The best one of the match went to Federer in the eighth game. As Federer charged to the net, Djokovic hit a powerful forehand which clipped the net and flew to the left of Federer, wrong-footing him. From a seemingly impossible angle, and totally off balance, he scooped his racket behind his neck and flicked a volley over the net for a winner.
Federer thrust his arms into the air, the crowd rose to their feet in sheer disbelief.
Even by Federer’s lofty standards, it was remarkable.
“That’s why he is who he is,” Djokovic said, admiringly.
But after losing the match, Federer was left shaking his head. He was unhappy with someone in the crowd twice shouting “out” during the long match-point rally.
“It’s just unfortunate it happens and at the end you lose the point, the match,” Federer said.
Still, he retained a sense of irony.
“Thank God the rally ended,” he said. “It would have been five times if it continued.”