Aslan Karatsev, the Russian world No,114, who came through the qualifying event for his place in the main draw, is now a semi-finalist at a Grand Slam on his debut in a major.
It’s the first time playing the men’s draw and the first time the semis Aslan Karatsev
The 27-year-old from Vladikavkaz, who has basically made his living on the Challenger tour, is showing some incredible form bearing in mind he was on the verge of falling outside the top 300 almost a year ago and is now guaranteed a spot in the top 50.
On this occasion he was somewhat aided by his opponent, the 18th seed from Bulgaria, Grigor Dimitrov, being hampered with a lower back injury during the latter part of the match.
But that shouldn’t belittle Karatsev’s 2-6 6-4 6-1 6-2 victory who, in reaching the last eight, had taken out a series of higher ranked players including Gianluca Mager, Egor Gerasimov, the eighth seed Diego Schwartzman and the 20th seed Felix Auger-Alliasime, dropping just two sets, both to the Canadian when he recovered from two sets down to reach the last eight.
Whether that five-setter had taken too much out of Karatsev at the start of the match, or simply nerves, allowed Dimitrov to gain control by taking advantage of a series of unforced errors from the Russian’s racket.
But at 1-0 down in the second, a 12-minute game proved crucial.
Karatsev saved five break points and settled into the match with his fearsome ground strokes starting to make their mark as he went on to break the 29-year-old Bulgarian twice and go and level the match.
At what point Dimitrov’s back started to prove a problem, is not certain but in the middle of the third set his serve became weaker and, on several points, he made no effort to respond.
Having called for the trainer, he took an off-court medical time out at the end of the set and give him his due, he returned to the court but was unable to make any inroads against the record breaking Russian.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Karatsev, now the lowest ranked player to reach the AO semi-finals since Patrick McEnroe in 1991 said n his post-match interview.
“It’s the first time playing the men’s draw and the first time the semis” he added as he becomes only the fifth player in history to qualify to come through qualifying and then go and reach the last four.
A man of few words, he concluded: “It was a really tough one in the beginning for me. I held my nerves. It was still tricky and then in the second set I tried to find a way to play and then the third I felt better. The heat was too much. I just try to play every match,”
His success means that there will be two Russians in the semi-finals this year for tomorrow, the nation’s top two players, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, will be facing each other in the first of the last two quarter-final matches.
Meanwhile Karatsev, holder of nine Challenger titles, will play the winner of the second quarter-final between world number one Novak Djokovic and sixth seed Alexander Zverev, which is scheduled for later on Tuesday.
There is now the possibility that two Russians could eventually be contesting the AO title on Sunday.
“I try not to think about it, I just look at the next match,” Karatsev responded when asked about the prospect.
Discussing his incredible success in Melbourne, Karatsev also confessed his surprise at his run and admitted that had he been told before the tournament that he would reach the semis, he would not have believed it possible.
Meanwhile Dimitrov was left to rue what might have been.
“There’s no point in hiding anything,” the Bulgarian said following his exit. “It started yesterday on a regular movement.
“Then it happened early in the match, it kept progressing and was unstoppable. It was his day. Now let’s move on. That’s sport.”
He also revealed: “I couldn’t put my socks on before the match. So I knew it would be tough.
“I gave it a try because it was a Grand Slam, adrenaline, I was in a very good shape before. [I’ve] rarely been so well in a Slam.
“Once again, it’s sport. Respect to the guy (Karatsev), always struggling, doing what he has to do.”