Barely ranked inside the top-200 when the season restarted last August, Aslan Karatsev has made incredible progress in the previous eight months to find himself in the top-30. At the Australian Open, the Russian became the first qualifier in a Major semi-final, losing to Novak Djokovic and serving revenge on Saturday after stunning world no.
1 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in the Belgrade semi-final after almost three and a half hours! Aslan threw everything he had at Novak, playing composed tennis and overpowering an 18-time Major winner from the baseline to advance into the final and celebrate the career's greatest victory.
Karatsev fended off jaw-dropping 23 out of 28 break chances and scored six breaks that carried him over the top. After the match, the Russian said that he had to stay aggressive and fight for every ball against such a strong rival, who can return your balls even harder, just like a wall.
Novak raced into an early lead in the opener before Aslan pulled the break back and grabbed another break that sent him 5-4 in front. Novak extended the set before experiencing another break at 5-5 that earned the set for Karatsev.
From 4-2 down in set number two, Djokovic rattled off four straight games to take the set in style and become the favorite ahead of the decider. Still fighting hard, Karatsev wasted two break points in the final set's opening game before leveling the score at 1-1.
Feeling tired after numerous exhausting rallies, Novak secured the third game with a perfect drop shot winner, giving his best to overpower the rival and advance into the final. Both players had to work hard in games four and five, fending off three break chances each before Aslan saved five break points to bring another game home at 2-3 and push Novak to the limits for already three hours.
Aslan Karatsev explained how he defeated Novak Djokovic in Belgrade.
Djokovic couldn't stand the pressure in game seven, losing serve at 15 and facing the exit door. Aslan held at love in game eight to confirm the lead and created a match point on the return, which Novak saved to stay alive following a service winner.
Keeping his composure, the Russian erased two break points in the tenth game and seized the second match point for a career-best victory and a place in the final. "I stepped on the court to beat Novak. I believed in myself and promised that I would give my best on every ball.
I spoke with my coach about fighting for every point, which was one of the key elements of my success. It's the most significant victory of my career, with Novak being world no. 1. I'm happy with how I fought and left my everything on the court in a long match.
I produce great tennis and can't say much about what was going through my mind during those numerous break points I had to play against. You have to play aggressive tennis against a rival like Novak; if not, it feels like you are hitting against the wall, as everything goes back to you and forces you to run a lot.
My main goal was to take the ball early and stay aggressive. I want to reach the top-20, and then I can set other goals. To achieve that, I will have to play at my best in every tournament," Aslan Karatsev said.