Aslan Karatsev has been the breakthrough player of this Australian Open. The World No. 114 is into the semi-finals as a qualifier, and he will next play World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Karatsev has upset three seeded opponents during his dream run — Diego Schwartzman, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Grigor Dimitrov. Now the 27-year-old will try to carry his momentum into the last four at the season’s first Grand Slam.
Before Karatsev plays Djokovic, ATPTour.com looks at five things you should know about the Russian.
1) This Is Karatsev’s Grand Slam Debut, But He Had Momentum
Before Karatsev won his three qualifying matches last month in Doha, he had never previously made it through Grand Slam qualifying. This was his 10th attempt to reach the main draw at a major, and the Russian has made the most of his successful effort by thriving at Melbourne Park. Karatsev is the first man in the Open Era to reach the semi-finals on his Grand Slam debut.
Karatsev’s success began after tennis resumed last August. Karatsev was No. 253 in the FedEx ATP Rankings when he entered his first ATP Challenger Tour event in Prague following a five-month Tour suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He won 18 of his final 20 Challenger matches on the season, claiming two of his three titles at that level.
2) From Russia To Israel, Germany To Spain & More
Karatsev was born in Vladikavkaz, Russia, before moving with his family to Israel at the age of three. He trained in Israel until 12, when he returned to Taganrog, Russia with his father. Karatsev practised there until he was 18, when he shifted to Moscow.
The righty moved to Halle, Germany for two years, then Barcelona, Spain and finally, for almost the past three years, Minsk, Belarus. “I was moving I would say too much,” Karatsev admitted.
Karatsev believes that working with Yahor Yatsyk, a 28-year-old Belarusian, has proven key to his surge.
“I think the key is to find the right team, the right coach [who] I found. I was really lucky to find him, and we just met in one tournament. I played futures, and we were saying, ‘Okay, let’s try to work together.’ I think it’s a big luck that we started to work together and I have a good team around me.”
3) A Knee Injury Caused A Setback In 2017
The Russian struggled with a knee injury in 2017. Karatsev suffered the injury while training in Spain, and it caused him to miss six months.
“From this moment it was really tough to get the confidence back and to feel the game,” Karatsev said. “It was not that easy.”
That stretch of time off the court sent Karatsev’s FedEx ATP Ranking as low as No. 764 in October 2017.
4) Karatsev Will Soar Up The FedEx ATP Rankings
One of Karatsev’s biggest goals last season was to crack the Top 100 for the first time. While the Russian was unable to do so, he will reach several milestones following the Australian Open, regardless of his results during the rest of the tournament.
If the 27-year-old loses against Djokovic on Thursday, he is still projected to break into the Top 50 for the first time. If he stuns the World No. 1, Karatsev will reach the Top 30. If he completes his dream run by lifting the trophy, the Russian will move into the Top 15.
5) He Was Russia’s “Secret Weapon” In The ATP Cup
Karatsev was part of the Russian team that won the ATP Cup alongside Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and playing captain Evgeny Donskoy. The 27-year-old’s teammates had high praise for him.
“Aslan, I’m not joking, was a secret weapon for doubles,” Medvedev said during the trophy ceremony. “He didn’t manage to show it because we didn’t have a 1-1 match, but he was our secret weapon.”
Donskoy made a prediction after they lifted the trophy, saying: ”Aslan, I am sure you are going to have a great season this year, because you are playing unbelievably.”
Karatsev has proven his captain right.