The first two players to make the quarter-finals at the Australian Open will no doubt astonish many as the two favourites expected to make the last eight, suffered surprising defeats.
I think a combination of some things, some little physical issues, plus a real bad day, plus the fact that, well, he’s a great player. So a combination of those three things, and a result like that can happen, Dominic Thiem
The bigger shock was the elimination of the world number three, Dominic Thiem who seemingly had run out of steam following his epic five set battle with Nick Kyrgios in the previous round in contrast to his victor, Grigor Dimitrov, who went through when his opponent retired after just seven games.
And then there is the Russian qualifier who is surprising everyone to make it to the last eight. Aslan Karatsev is the name and looks set to join compatriots Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov in the game’s top echelons, injuries permitting.
On this occasion Karatsev came from two sets down to pull off yet another stunning victory to oust the Canadian 20th seed Felix Auger-Alliasime 3-6 1-6 6-3 6-3 6-4.
having dismissed in previous rounds, Gianluca Mager, Egor Gerasimov and the eighth seed from Argentina, Diego Schwartzman, all in straight sets.
The 27-year-old world number 114 has certainly been the surprise package of the event as he becomes the first man to reach a major quarter-final on his debut for 25 years.
Dogged by injury during his career, Karatsev had failed in nine previous attempts to reach a Grand Slam main draw, but at the ATP Cup earlier this month he was described by world number four Daniil Medvedev as Russia’s “secret weapon”.
Speaking after his victory, Karatsev said: “It was really tough in the beginning to play with him, he’s a really good player, he’s playing really fast and it took me two sets to find a way how to play and then, in the end, I was good for the 3rd, 4th and 5th”
And as he has proved so far, he added: “I’ll be ready for everyone.”
No doubt he thought he would be facing Dominic Thiem but no doubt will relish instead, playing Dimitrov for a place in the semi-finals after the Bulgarian eased past Thiem 6-4 6-4 6-0 in a minute over two hours.
Dimitrov, a Melbourne semi-finalist four years ago, was on from from the start as he took full advantage of a lacklustre opponent who seemingly couldn’t join the party as he was broken seven times and, to complete his humiliation, lost 9 consecutive games to tamely go out, winning just 6 points in the third set.
In fairness the Austrian fought as hard as he could with the opening set lasting an hour and he drew first blood with a break in the fourth game but then wasted a number of game points in the next as he attempted to consolidate.
Dimitrov having regained control as Thiem’s unforced error count started to rise and on sealing the set, his confidence received a major boost.
Thiem saved five break points in the second and gained a 3-1 lead but again Dimitrov pulled him back to draw level at 3-3 after saving a couple break points.
That proved to be the limit of Thiem’s resilience as Dimitrov, from 4-3 down, grabbed 12 of the next 13 points, breaking the third seed in the ninth game, claimed the second set and then ran away with the third.
“I think a combination of some things, some little physical issues, plus a real bad day, plus the fact that, well, he’s a great player. So a combination of those three things, and a result like that can happen,” Thiem later explained his loss.
“Some little physical issues. I don’t want to find any excuses. But the thing also is that I’m also not a machine. Sometimes I would like to be, but there are really, really bad days. As soon as you’re not a hundred percent there on the court on this level, then results like this come up, and that’s exactly what happened today.”
The 25-year-old didn’t have the best preparation heading into the tournament in terms of match results. After his 14-day quarantine, he lost two out of his three matches at the ATP Cup.
Thiem’s exit has also opened the door further in his section of the draw which is currently headed by Novak Djokovic who himself is dealing with an injury and is scheduled to play Milos Raonic in his fourth-round match late on Sunday’s evening session.