Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev made history by reaching the Australian Open semi-finals on his Grand Slam debut, a big step from what was his initial, humble target for the year – breaking into the top 100 of the ATP ranking.
The 27-year-old, currently ranked 114 in the world, continued his dream run in Melbourne with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 win against injury-hit Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.
His ranking is now projected to soar into the top 50 after his breakthrough performance in his first Grand Slam.
Karatsev became the first man in the Open era to reach a semi-final on his Grand Slam debut, and just the second qualifier to do so at the Australian Open after Bob Giltinan in 1977. He was also the lowest-ranked man, at 114, to make the semis at a Slam since Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001 when ranked 125.
“Of course not,” Karatsev said when asked if he imagined being two wins away from a Slam title.
“My first step was to try to go to top 100 by the end of last year, and it didn’t happen. So I said, okay, from the beginning, my first step (this year) was to be top 100. So that was my thought.”
A virtual unknown before the tournament started, Karatsev has spent the bulk of his professional career fighting for points on the ATP Challenger Tour.
Karatsev, who spent some of his childhood living in Israel, revealed he had contemplated ending his career after suffering a knee injury in 2017.
But newfound belief has fuelled him in Melbourne, blitzing eighth seed Diego Schwartzmann and 20th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime on his way to meeting Dimitrov.
“I try to believe what I’m doing on the court, and it’s helped me to win matches,” said Karatsev. “I arrive on the court and say, ‘Okay, I try to do my best with more belief.’
Karatsev said he had already received about 200 WhatsApp messages after booking his semi-final berth.
“It’s amazing....I’m just trying to enjoy the moment,” he said.
After a five-setter with Felix Auger-Aliassime in round four, Karatsev had an easier ride against Dimitrov who was wincing with pain from the third set.
The Bulgarian 18th seed, who was barely able to serve because of back spasms, took a medical timeout, but his movement was always hampered and he limped off the court after Karatsev’s win.
With AFP Inputs