Melbourne, Australia – Aslan Karatsev never made it into the main draw in a Grand Slam tournament. Now he just refuses to leave the Australian Open.
Karatsev, a 27-year-old Russian qualifier ranked 114th, became the first man in the professional era to reach the semifinals of his first major tennis tournament by defeating the 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 on Tuesday.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Karatsev. “Of course it’s the first time. First time in the main draw, first time in the semi-finals. It’s incredible.”
That’s a pretty good word for what he’s done. Karatsev failed in nine previous attempts to complete qualifying rounds for a Grand Slam tournament.
Now he’s making the most of it and passing Dimitrov – a three-time great semi-finalist – after also eliminating two other seeded players, # 8 Diego Schwartzman and No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime.
“It’s great to see. I think it’s great to see,” said Dimitrov of Karatsev’s success. “Surprised? No.”
Dimitrov wasn’t at his best. He finished the match barely able to serve – and barely able to walk up the stairs as he exited the Rod Laver Arena.
Dimitrov took an early lead with three service breaks in the first set. He then held seven breakpoints in Karatsev’s first two service games in the second set, but didn’t convert any of them.
At this point, Karatsev began to believe he could extend his already remarkable run even further.
“In the beginning it was very difficult for me to keep my nerve,” said Karatsev. “It was difficult.” I tried to play in the second set to find a way to play. “
Dimitrov stopped chasing gunshots in the third set, then was visited by a trainer and took medical time off to treat a muscle problem around his lower back.
He hadn’t dropped a set in his first four games at the Australian Open but said he was having trouble putting his socks on before the game.
“It started yesterday,” said Dimitrov, “out of the blue.”
Karatsev is the lowest-ranked man to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open since Patrick McEnroe – John’s brother – was also # 114 in 1991 – and the lowest-ranked man to reach the semifinals of every slam since Goran Ivanisevic was No. 1. 125 at 2001 Wimbledon.
Karatsev will either play the eight-time champion Novak Djokovic or Alexander Zverev Next. Russians Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev meet on Wednesday in a quarter-finals in the other half of the draw, which means there will be two Russians in the semi-finals at Melbourne Park.
When Karatsev was asked for his thoughts on the possibility of an all-Russian final, he stuck to what he knows.
“I’m trying not to think about it,” he said, adding that he just “goes from game to game”.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.