It was one of the best matches of the season. Aslan Karatsev defeated Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Serbia Open in Belgrade last night in his home country – the tournament is organised by Novak’s brother – in the longest three-set match of the year after 3:25 hours 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. Karatsev fended off 23 break points and achieved the „biggest victory of my career“.
3:25 hours of incredible tennis: What a match!
The two battled for almost three and a half hours in the semi-finals of an E tournament (ATP 250), where just 60 world ranking points are at stake (Djokovic has almost 12,000 points on his account). What an incredible match!
In the first set, Aslan Karatsev managed three breaks against the world No. 1, the decisive one 6-5 from his point of view. The Serb had already had game point at 5-6, but then Karatsev once again made the point at the net in a crazy exchange of 22 shots and fought off the game point at 5-6. But Djokovic fought back again and again, hit back time and again, and in the twelfth game immediately got himself a game point to break back to 6-6. Karatsev, however, was able to fend it off – like so many break points – and played with tremendous pressure and finally won the first set 7-5.
At the beginning of the second set, Karatsev showed a slight lack of concentration after this enormously elaborate fight in the first and Djokovic was able to take a 0-2 lead (score always from Karatsev’s point of view). Would the Serb now get the hang of the match and turn it around? Karatsev immediately made it clear that it was not going to be that easy for Nole, breaking right back to 1-2. At 4-5, the Russian then served for the tie, even had game point at 5-5, but Djokovic now hit an unbelievable passing shot in extreme defence, as is known above all from probably the best defensive player in the world. After this passing ball, Karatsev was briefly dismayed, while Djokovic cheered on the spectators. The 33-year-old now played himself into a frenzy with his back against the wall, hitting incredible passing shots and taking the second set 4-6.
But anyone who thought Karatsev would collapse in the third set was soon proved wrong. He maintained his level even after two and a half and three hours of play, repeatedly fending off break points from Djokovic, for example at 2-3. Then he even managed the decisive break himself at 4-3 and pulled away to 5-3. Djokovic was able to fend off the first match point at 5-3, 40-30 for Karatsev on his own serve, and then come back to 5-4. Now the underdog was serving to win the match. And every tennis player knows how difficult the last service game can be, when the arm suddenly becomes very heavy, with victory right in front of one’s eyes, even on the racket. And Djokovic did indeed get another break point, two in a row at 15:40. But Karatsev stayed cool, fending off these break points and taking his service 7-5, 4-6 and 6-4 to beat the world No. 1 in his home tournament.
„The biggest win of my career“
„It’s the biggest win of my career for sure“, Karatsev said after the match. „I put everything into the match. You have to, you have to give 200 per cent to beat Novak. It’s like you’re playing against a wall. He played really good balls and he doesn’t give you any free points. I’m really happy about my performance.“
And happy Karatsev can be, indeed more than that: he can be proud of what he has achieved since play resumed in August 2020. For me, Karatsev is already one of the ten best players in the world. Unfortunately, the ATP ranking, which changed the ranking period from 12 to 24 months because of the pandemic, does not yet reflect that. In the 24-month ATP ranking, the Russian is still at 28, but will now rise to 27 or 26. In the 52-week JFB Tennis World Ranking, however, he is already at 11, and if he also wins the final in Belgrade, he will be at 10 tomorrow.
The fabulous rise of Aslan Karatsev: from 293 to the absolute top of the world within a few months
The now 27.6-year-old hardly played on the ATP Tour (A to E tournaments) until 2020, but mainly on the Challenger Tour (sixth to eleventh class tournaments), in 2019 partly even on the ITF Future Tour (category twelve to 14) and was still ranked 293 in the ATP Ranking at the beginning of 2020. After the five-month pandemic break, he then reached the finals of three Challenger tournaments (F category: 125s) in a row in August and early September 2020, won at the second and third and moved up into the top 120 in the world rankings for the first time.
From the end of September 2020, he then switched to the ATP Tour and sensationally reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open (A) in February 2021 as No. 114 in the ATP Ranking, first winning his three matches there in the qualifying tournament (in order to be admitted to the 128 main draw in the first place) and then five matches in a row in the main draw. Only Novak Djokovic, the eight-time Australian Open champion, was able to stop the high-flyer. Djokovic then won the Australian Open for the ninth time, breaking his own all-time record.
So now Karatsev also beat the world No. 1 and is in the final of the Serbia Open (E). In March, Karatsev even won an ATP 500 tournament in Dubai (D category) and in the 2021 ATP Race, the Russian, who hardly anyone knew a few months ago, is ranked 5th – ahead of Sinner, Zverev and Nadal, far ahead of Thiem and way ahead of Federer.
The final in Belgrade is now: Karatsev – Berrittini
In the final today from 5 pm, Karatsev will meet the resurgent Italian Matteo Berrittini, who last night, after the marathon match Djokovic – Karatsev, had to play the second semi-final from 9:05 pm to 11:12 pm until late in the night, where he then defeated Japan’s Taro Daniel 6-1, 6-7, 6-0. Berrittini was also seeded at No. 2 in Belgrade, Karatsev at No. 3.
The No. 1 of the tournament and the world, Novak Djokovic, who was born and grew up in Belgrade, on the other hand, was surprisingly eliminated in his home tournament, which is very close to his heart – hence probably this real battle on Saturday evening. From now on, Karatsev will probably cause fewer and fewer surprises, because by now everyone knows what this man can do, whose name had never been heard until a few months ago, but who is now known to almost every tennis fan in the world. It will be interesting to see how this story continues.
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