Aslan Karatsev - The Perfect Underdog Story at the Australian Open 2021

From not qualifying for last year's Australian Open due to a low ranking to reaching the semifinals this year, Aslan Karatsev has made a terrific turnaround in his career. 

Karatsev had a career-threatening knee injury in 2017. He suffered it while training in Spain. This forced him to stop playing tennis for almost three months which was later labeled by him as the toughest phase in his career. 

But, the Russian took it in his stride and worked hard. He worked with his coach Yahor Yatsyk and fitness trainer Luis Lopes extensively on his mental game, improving his physical conditioning, and strengthening his technique. 

It was at the end of the 2020 season when he found form by reaching a couple of finals consecutively in the ATP Challenger Tour. 

He has trained from his young days in Russia, Spain, Israel, and Germany to work on his game. 

His aggressive shot-making based on a high-risk and high-reward style has worked well on hard courts. 

Aslan had a career prize money of $618354 but his semifinal appearance has guaranteed him prize money of $660,875.

While it is stunning that Karatsev's prize money from the 2021 Australian Open will surpass his lifetime prize money that he has made in his entire career, it indicates the authorities of the game need to raise the prize money offered in lower-tier ATP Challenger and ITF Futures tournaments to encourage more participation from players.

He has defied the prediction of tennis pundits in the tournament. The Russian made his main draw debut at Melbourne Park after coming through three grueling rounds of qualifying in Doha.

Ahead of the first grand slam of the season, he took part in the ATP Cup playing doubles for Russia alongside Andrey Rublev and Evgeny Donskoy as they emerged champions beating Italy in the finals. 

Aslan Karatsev could not play the singes matches as Russia had both their top players, Daniil Medvedev and Rublev available for the tournament. He lost all his three doubles matches against Argentina, Japan, and Germany. 

Karatsev notched up straight-set victories in the first two rounds against Gianluca Mager and Egor Gerasimov. 

Facing an uphill task against the eighth seed, Diego Schwartzman in the third round, the unseeded Russian took his game up by one level pounding 50 winners (including 9 aces) against a hapless Schwartzman who managed to hit only 5 winners.

Trailing by a two-set deficit against Felix Auger Aliassime in the fourth round, Karatsev made a spectacular comeback to clinch the match in five sets. 

Grigor Dimitrov, his opponent in the quarterfinal was on a high after beating last year's runner-up Dominic Thiem in straight sets in the fourth round. However, a pelvic injury and a back spasm affected his movement severely while serving games as he folded up in four sets. This resulted in Karatsev making his first-ever grand slam semifinal in his career.

"It is an unbelievable feeling, of course, it is my first time playing a Grand Slam main draw, first time in the semis, it is incredible," said Aslan expressing delight at his impressive performance in Melbourne Park.

Game Analysis

Karatsev's main weapons are the flat backhand, strong firepower from the baseline, and the uncanny ability to dictate the play by controlling the rallies. His serving has been very consistent and he is also getting a lot of points with some smart netplay. 

Karatsev has gone for the big shots when it mattered with his fearless attitude in the Australian Open. Aslan is not afraid of the big stage and can rise to the occasion against the top players. 

The massive rise of Karatsev

  • He is the first man in the Open Era to reach a grand slam semifinal on his main-draw debut.
  • Karatsev is the 5th qualifier to reach the semifinals of a grand slam in the Open Era.
  • After 9 failed attempts to make it to the main draw of a grand slam, he reached the main draw of the 2021 Australian Open in his 10th attempt.
  • Karatsev is the second-ever qualifier to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open since Bob Giltinan did it in 1977.
  • He won 18 out of his last 20 ATP Challenger Tour matches and clinched a total of 35 matches (Main tour and Challenger) last year.
  • He began the tournament with a dismal 3-10 win-loss record on the ATP Tour.
  • The World number 114 has dropped only four sets in his matches and defeated three seeded players, Schwartzman, Aliassime, and Dimitrov in the tournament.
  • Karatsev is the lowest-ranked player to reach the Australian Open semis since Patrick McEnroe who was also World number 114 at that time did it in 1991.
  • Before Karatsev, the lowest-ranked player to make it to the semifinals of a grand slam was Goran Ivanisevic in the 2001 Wimbledon.
  • When the tennis season was disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Karatsev was ranked 253, now he is all set to become the World number 42 courtesy of his semifinal run in the  2021 Australian Open.
  • Aslan had a career prize money of $618354 but his semifinal appearance has guaranteed him prize money of $660,875.
  • The 27-year-old Karatsev is the first male player from Russia to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open since Marat Safin in 2005.
Aslan Karatsev
Karatsev will have his task cut out against the mercurial Djokovic. He will have to produce his A-level game to pull off an upset.                     Image Credits - ATP Tour

A statistical insight of Aslan Karatsev performances in the 2021 Australian Open (including qualifying)

Player NameAslan Karatsev
Double Faults24
Points Won on First Serve77.875%
Points Won on Second Serve66.875%
Sets Lost4
Breakpoint Conversion Rate55.42%
Win-Loss Record in Tiebreaks0-1

Aslan Karatsev vs Novak Djokovic: Semi-Finals

Dreams do come true as Karatsev faces World number 1 and the defending champion, Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open 2021. Djokovic would be aiming to clinch his 18th grand slam title while Karatsev has played only 18 sets in his career. 

All the hard work that he put into the Challenger and Futures circuit in 2020 is reaping handsome results now. He will have to play with a "Nothing to Lose Attitude" against the world's best returner of serve in Djokovic. One hopes the late bloomer's magnificent journey will have a happy ending.

Featured Image Credits - AFP

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