Playing at his home event and on his home against a player he rolled in the Australian Open semifinals, Novak Djokovic couldn’t close the door on Aslan Karatsev in a stunning 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 loss that was the longest non-Slam match of the year at 3 hours, 25 minutes.
Djokovic, one of the game’s premier converters of break points, finished just 5-for-28 in the category and 0-for-10 in the final set.
“It was a long, tough match, tough opponent,” Karatsev said. “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,” he added. “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.”
Djokovic was down a set and a break but managed to battle back to force a decider. But opportunities came and went in the third for the Serb. Djokovic just couldn’t break the will of the Russian who stayed calm, belting forehands and cracking backhands, and often taking service returns in the air to force the issue.
After missing a match point earlier, Karatsev dug out of a 0-30 while serving for it to earn his single 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. “Whenever he needed to come up with the best shots, he did. Congratulations to him. Awesome performance from his side.
“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.”
In the final tomorrow, Karatsev will bid for a second career title after Dubai against Matteo Berrettini who eased past lucky loser 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. “But tomorrow I’m going to play the final, so for sure I’m happy.”
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