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Khachanov keen to follow in Safin steps

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 9/01/2017 Angelo Risso

Karen Khachanov of Russia. © Rex Images Karen Khachanov of Russia. If people want to compare Russian tennis wonderkid Karen Khachanov with Marat Safin, then that's fine with him.

Khachanov, 20, has the same rangy gait and bullet serve as his legendary compatriot, a two-time grand slam winner and former world No.1.

Yet rather than shy away from the comparison, the 198cm Khachanov says he's glad to share so many characteristics with the fiery Safin.

"He was one of my favourite players in the past, I was watching (him) on TV while I was growing up," the Barcelona-based Khachanov said.

"Obviously looking at (us) players, similar aspects, also a tall guy, so I have to play the same way."

On tour since 2013, Khachanov heads to the Shaky Isles for his first ASB Classic on the back of a breakthrough 2016 campaign in which he rose to world No.51.

Two quarter-final appearances on the World Tour circuit in Austria sandwiched a maiden ATP title in Chengdu, where he defeated Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

The Moscow-born Khachanov said he was ready to keep rising through the ranks in 2017, but was more concerned by his performance than his ranking.

He hits up to 200 serves a day in practice and spends large chunks of time with personal trainers and physios, aiming to improve his agility around the court.

He'll play his first round Classic match on Tuesday against Taiwanese veteran Yen-Hsun Lu, who he once joined on a 2014 training camp in Thailand.

"I work hard and at some point, hard work pays off," Khachanov said.

"You never know when it's going to happen or in which tournament you'll play better and win, so that's why you have to be focused."

Considered a Next Generation player by the ATP, Khachanov has also spent his first trip to Auckland enjoying the city's tourism destinations, including Waiheke Island.

He joined local doubles player Marcus Daniell on a helicopter ride to the island on Sunday before diving and enjoying lunch with a high-profile Kiwi chef.

Classic director Karl Budge said having the Russian in the City of Sails was a major coup, following in the footsteps of former participants Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

"We've invested in Khachanov because we want to give New Zealand tennis fans access to the best players of today and tomorrow," Budge said.

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