Dominic Thiem ended Kei Nishikori’s comeback to reach the quarter-finals with a 6-2 6-0 5-7 6-4 victory and set up a mouth-watering clash with second seed Alexander Zverev.
The German had survived successive five-setters in the previous two rounds, including saving a match point against Damir Dzumhur in the last 32, but his fatigued legs and blistered feet again worked overtime to carry him over the finishing line against Khachanov.
“I am young so I might as well stay on court for a while and entertain you guys,” the 21-year-old Zverev, who became the youngest man to reach the quarter-finals at Roland Garros since 2009, told the cheering crowd.
After looking down and out for much of the third set, Zverev was fired up by a code violation for being coached from the stands by his father Alexander Sr. midway through the fourth set and he vented his anger by instantly breaking for a 4-2 lead.
He was fortunate to survive a break point when serving for the set at 5-3, with Khachanov’s blazing forehand clipping the net cord and bouncing just millimetres behind the baseline.
Thiem, the last man to beat claycourt machine Rafa Nadal on his favourite surface, displayed an impressive arsenal of weapons in the first two sets before regaining his composure after the loss of the third. Japanese 19th seed Nishikori, on the comeback trail after he ended his 2017 season in mid-year because of injury, seemed to lose interest in the match in the second set but eventually managed to put up a decent fight.
“The first two sets were amazing but then he raised his level and it was 50-50. In the end it was very close and I was a bit nervous in the end as it is always hard to serve to reach the quarter-finals of the French Open,” said Thiem, a semi-finalist here in 2016 and 2017.
Earlier, Madison Keys’s smooth ride continued as she brushed aside Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-1 6-4 to reach her first French Open quarter-final.
The 23-year-old American with power to burn was far too strong for Buzarnescu whose dream run came to an abrupt halt.
Keys has not dropped a set so far and all the talk that her game was ill-suited to clay now looks redundant. Make no mistake the 13th seed will now take some stopping.