Aslan Karatsev made history at the Australian Open on Tuesday, becoming the first man in the Open Era to reach the semifinals on his Grand Slam debut.
Karatsev started slowly against 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov, but rallied for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 win against a physically ill Bulgarian after two hours and 32 minutes. Dimitrov looked sharp early on, but at the beginning of the third set he started to show serious limitations in his movement and service movement, which limited his chances.
“It’s an amazing feeling. Of course I’m playing for the first time [a Grand Slam] main draw, first time [in the] semifinals, “Karatsev said in his field interview.” That’s amazing. “
After the third set, Dimitrov took advantage of a medical timeout off the field and tried to fight through an obvious back injury. Although the former world number 3 did not retire, his condition has not improved enough to hold the match in the last two sets.
“It was very difficult for me to keep my nerves from the beginning. It was really tricky,” Karatsev said. “I tried to find a way to play, and then in the third set he felt his back.”
Karatsev, who is 114th on the FedEx ATP rankings, had previously tried to qualify for nine Grand Slam championships, each time missing. In January, he finally made his way to Doha to earn his place at the Australian Open and made the most of it. The 27-year-old is the fifth qualifier to reach the semifinals of the grand tournament in the open era. Karatsev is only the second man to achieve the Down Under feat, joining Bob Giltinan, who did so in 1977.
Grand Slam Semifinals Qualifiers (Open Era)
Karatsev showed nerves in the beginning, making 19 unforced errors in the first set. Dimitrov showed great footwork forcing the Russians to play extra balls. The 2017 Nitto ATP final champion made great use of his backhade, knocking the aggressive qualifier out of the game.
But after Karatsev saved five break points in his first serve game of the second set, the tone of the match changed. World number 114 still made occasional mistakes – hitting 15 unforced errors in the second set – but remained in the rallies long enough to lower Dimitrov’s level.
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The pair changed breaks in the middle of the set, but Karatsev delivered a decisive blow when he crushed the winner’s backhand and served the second set for love. Dimitar’s movement seemed more and more upset, and his service speed dropped significantly.
Since then, Karatsev has been waiting for slow services and keeping his composure at rallies. Dimitrov fought to the end, but failed to reach his fourth Grand Slam semifinal.
Karatsev has never competed in major tournaments before these fifteen days, but he has great self-confidence. After a five-month suspension from the Tour last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he has won 18 of his last 20 matches of his season on the ATP Challenger Tour. Less than two weeks ago, Karatsev was a member of the Russian ATP Cup winning team along with Daniil Medvedev, Andrei Rubblev and acting captain Evgeny Donskoy. During the cup award ceremony, Medvedev called Karatsev their team’s “secret weapon.”
The qualifier will try to take his Grand Slam dream to the finals when he faces world number 1 Novak Djokovic or the 2018 Nitto ATP final champion Aleksandar Zverev. Karatsev defeated three holders at this Australian Open (No. 8 Schwartzman, No. 20 Auger-Aliassime and No. 18 Dimitrov).
Did you know?
Karatsev started this Australian Open with a record of 3-10 on the tour. The Russian is 5-0 in this case with a loss of only three sets. Two of them came in the fourth round, when he narrowed down two sets to defeat Canadian #NextGenATP Felix Auger-Aliassime.