Aslan Karatsev continues to be a huge story. The 27-year-old Russian had never played a Grand Slam match until this week, and now finds himself into a Slam semifinal after taking out three straight seeds including Tuesday’s 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 win over Grigor Dimitrov.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. Of course it’s my first time playing main draw, first time semis,” Karatsev said. “It’s incredible.”
Dimitrov, a former Australian Open semifinalist in 2017, was in total control early and looked to be on his was to a quick win after taking the first set. Karatsev avoided early peril in the second, then start playing better off the ground. A quick break got him the lead and he didn’t let go.
Things went downhil for the Bulgarian in the third when he pulled up lame with a lower back issue. Dimitrov had trouble serving and moving to balls, but wouldn’t call the trainer. After dropping the third, he did.
Dimitrov returned from medical treatment in the locker room on his lower back, and while he played better, it wasn’t enough as Karatsev continued to dominate.
:It was really tough from the beginning for me to hold the nerves. It was really tricky,” Karatsev said. “I tried to find a way how to play and then in the third set he felt the back.”
Karatsev had just three career Tour-level wins to his name coming into the tournament. He had never even been able to qualify for a Grand Slam main draw. Now he’s the first man in the Open Era to make a Grand Slam semifinal in his debut, and he’s the first qualifier in a Grand Slam quarterfinal since Vladimir Voltschkov at 2000 Wimbledon.
“It’s amazing that I reached the semifinals from qualifying,” Karatsev said. “I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and not think about winning too much. Playing round to round, I try to believe every match what I’m doing on the court, and it’s helped me to win matches.”
Dimitrov admitted he just didn’t want to quit.
“I just got a back spasm yesterday at some point, and that was it,” Dimitrov said. “We couldn’t fix it on time. It happened, I think, early in the match. It kept on progressing, and it was unstoppable. But that’s enough about me. It’s his day.
“I felt I was on a good path. We’ve done great work. I was very positive and upbeat for whatever, whoever I had to play,” he added. “Today, I couldn’t put my socks on before the match, so I knew it was going to be a tough moment for me. I tried, but it was not good enough. But he absolutely deserved to win.”
In the nightcap, Novak Djokovic found a way to win yet again, besting Alexander Zverev 6-7(6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(6).
“Down to the very last shot, it was anybody’s game, anybody’s match,” said Djokovic. “A lot of nerves out there, a lot of pressure. Emotionally, feel a little drained, honestly. It was a great battle. Congratulations to Sascha for a great tournament and a great battle today. Tough luck today, but we pushed each other to the limit.”
Zverev, who played Djokovic tough a couple weeks ago at the ATP Cup, led by a break in three of the four sets. After being down, Djokovic managed to force a breaker in the first but came up just short.
Things went smoothly in the second for the World No. 1 before Zverev got back on top in the third. At one point down 1-3, deuce, Djokovic violently smashed his racquet. He dropped the game but then ran off five straight to take the set and a 2-1 lead.
However Zverev again got on top and again couldn’t hold it. Eventually, his 23rd ace at 7-6 in the breaker sealed it for the Serb.
“I just felt I started moving better, playing better,” said Djokovic about his play after the first set. “I served extremely well. I had slightly more aces than him (23 to 21) which, for me, is a miracle playing against a big server like Sascha.
“Other than the second set, I started pretty poorly all the other three sets,” Djokovic added. “I lost my service very early in the first, third and fourth and just allowed him to swing through the ball a bit more. I regained my focus after I broke my racquet [in the third set] and things started to shift a little bit for me in a positive direction. If he won this match, it definitely wouldn’t be undeserved. He was playing really well. It was anybody’s game and I am just really glad to overcome such a challenge.”
Djokovic improves to 40-0 as a top seed at the Australian Open, and in his 9th career semifinals — he’s never lost once he reaches the last four in Melbourne — he’ll meet the qualifier Karatsev Thursday night. And then he’ll get two days off before the Sunday final.
“To be honest, I hadn’t seen [Karatsev] play at all before the Australian Open,” said Djokovic. “Of course, I have seen him play during the Australian Open.
“He is a very strong guy. Physically, he is just very strong. He moves well, just has a lot of firepower from the back of the court. Great backhand, from the Russian school of tennis, always have great backhands. He serves well and he is motivated. He has nothing to lose.”
Zverev fell to 0-9 against Top 10 players in Slams.
“Maybe too many mistakes, easy mistakes,” said Zverev. “But it’s one of the most difficult things, holding your serve against Novak in our sport. Very upset with the result.
“For me, the most upsetting parts in the third and fourth sets were actually not losing my serve, but not getting the second breaks. Because I had chances in both those sets, that would have changed things a lot. It was a great match. I think we both played well, I think we played an extremely physical match.”
On Wednesday, the two monster showdowns are on tap. In the day, Daniil Medvedev meets his friend Andrey Rublev in a massive Russian battle. Medvedev has won his last 18 matches and has never lost a set to Rublev in three matches, including a straight-set win at the US Open.
At night, the improving Rafael Nadal takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas in a rematch of their 2019 semifinal. Nadal leads 6-1 but the Greek has played him tough, beating Nadal on clay.
WEDNESDAY AUSTRALIAN OPEN SCHEDULE
Rod Laver Arena – 11:00 AM
BARTY, Ashleigh (AUS)  vs. MUCHOVA, Karolina (CZE) 
Not before: 1:00 PM
BRADY, Jennifer (USA)  vs. PEGULA, Jessica (USA)
Not before: 3:00 PM
RUBLEV, Andrey (RUS)  vs. MEDVEDEV, Daniil (RUS) 
TSITSIPAS, Stefanos (GRE)  vs. NADAL, Rafael (ESP) 
ALCOTT, Dylan (AUS)  vs. SCHRODER, Sam (NED)
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