Novak Djokovic won’t be celebrating a third Serbian Open title despite his confidence, playing at his own tennis complex at an event run by his brother Djordje (who was also in charge of last year’s infamous Adria Tour which contravened pandemic guidelines) and a Covid limited crowd which idolises him.
I stepped on the court to win. I was believing, and I said to myself that I would play every ball no matter what Aslan Karatsev
For the second time this season, the world number one suffered a humiliating defeat though reluctantly acknowledging his opponent was the better player on the day while still admitting that he suffered a certain amount of bad luck!
Aslan Karatsev joined Britain’s Dan Evans as the only two players to have secured wins over the Serbian this season.
However, there’s no doubt that Djokovic didn’t concede it with any relish but there’s also no doubt the Karatsev earned his 7-5 4-6 6-4 victory after saving 23 of 28 breakpoints in the three-hour and 26-minute match with the late developing Russian impressed with his determination, focus and grit.
For Karatsev, the world No.27, the victory ranks as the best of his career to date.
“This is definitely the most important victory of my career,” he said while recollecting his semi-final loss when they last met in Melbourne.
“At the Australian Open in Melbourne I felt like I was playing against a wall, but this is a different surface and I was focused.”
Karatsev continued: “It was a long, tough match, tough opponent.
“You have to put like 200% to beat this guy, it’s like playing against a wall. And he also made some good shots. He doesn’t give you any free points. He always makes you play and you have to be always there because once you miss a couple of shots, he just takes it very quickly. That’s how I lost the second set.
“I stepped on the court to win. I was believing, and I said to myself that I would play every ball no matter what.
“I tried to keep this strategy that we spoke about with the coach. You have to fight for every ball, that was the key to success.”
Meanwhile Djokovic told an on-line press conference. “Hats off to Karatsev, he was bold and deserved to win.
“I will probably not be able to recollect all the memorable rallies in this match because I lost. I am not happy with my performance, I put up a fight, but he delivered great shots every time he needed to.
“I was unlucky at times – it all came down to one or two shots, but I had too many ups and downs throughout the match.”
Djokovic was down a set and a break but managed to battle back to force a decider. He put together a series of games to prevent his opponent from serving out for the match and lead in the third, pumping the air with his winning shots and calling on his supporters to get behind him.
But then opportunities dried up as far as the local hero was concerned as he just couldn’t break down Karatsev’s serve with the Russian remaining calm behind his powerful ground strokes, and, on his second match point, clinched the best win of his career.
“This is definitely, it’s the World No. 1,” Karatsev said. “I’m really happy, I put everything on the court. The match was long. I’m really happy with my performance today.”
Djokovic will rue all those missed chances.
“You never like losing at home, that is for sure. It is disappointing. I don’t feel so great now but, at the same time, I have to congratulate Karatsev who played very bravely,” said Djokovic.
“From my side, I played on quite a low level, in my opinion,” he went on. “Some flashes of good quality tennis. I was fighting. That is a positive. I was really trying all the way; the crowd was great. They carried me and tried to lift me up, all the way to the end. Because of them, I think I won the second set. Unfortunately, in the third, he was just the better player in the decisive moments. I had my chances, but that is sport.”
Karatsev now faces the second seeded, Matteo Berrettini in Sunday’s final, the Italian who beat the Lucky Loser from Japan, Taro Daniel, 6-1 6-7(5) 6-0.
“I’m really happy because I had a great reaction in the third, it’s never easy to think about what happened,” Berrettini said following his win late in the evening. “But tomorrow I’m going to play the final, so for sure I’m happy.”