World No. 114 Karatsev Stuns Felix In Five To Reach First Major QF
The World No. 114 made a stunning comeback on Sunday, rallying past 20th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the last eight at Melbourne Park. Karatsev is just the seventh man in the Open Era to make the quarter-finals on his major debut.
"It was really tough in the beginning to play with him," Karatsev said in his on-court interview. "He's a really good player and he's playing really fast. It took me two sets to find a way how to play."
Neither man had played a five-set match at the start of the day. But Karatsev rode the momentum of his furious recovery to become the third qualifier in the Open Era to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals after three hours and 25 minutes.
After Russia won the ATP Cup final, Daniil Medvedev said, “Aslan, I’m not joking, was a secret weapon for doubles.” But Karatsev has proven a force on the singles court at the season's first Slam, and he will play 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov for a spot in the semi-finals.
"I'll be ready for everyone," Karatsev said, cracking a laugh.
The Russian played jaw-dropping tennis in the first three rounds — winning all nine sets he played — including a flawless performance against eighth seed Diego Schwartzman. But in the first two sets against Auger-Aliassime, Karatsev looked like a player outside the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings, making 26 unforced errors.
The 27-year-old left the court for a bathroom break after the second set, and when he returned to Margaret Court Arena, he began playing at the same level he did in the first three rounds. Karatsev did not lose a service game the rest of the match. Auger-Aliassime, who was sharp to take his two-set lead, let slip his first-serve percentage — he landed more than 70 per cent of his first serves in the first two sets — and that cost him dearly.
That allowed Karatsev to get into more points and find his rhythm. As the match wore on, the Russian constantly shouted "come on!" to pump himself up as his game improved. On the other side of the net, Auger-Aliassime began to make more unforced errors, and the tide quickly shifted.
In the second half of the match, both players consistently ended up in their backhand corner. Karatsev was comfortable in those cross-court rallies, while Auger-Aliassime tried to change direction first, usually leading to a mistake.
Karatsev only converted one of his five break points in the deciding set, and Auger-Aliassime raised his level to stay within touching distance. But Karatsev remained calm, crushing a forehand — his 37th winner — on match point.
"I'm feeling good. Of course, a bit tired. But what could I do?" Karatsev said. "I put everything in this match. I'm happy."
This is Karatsev’s Grand Slam debut, but he has been in great form since tennis resumed last August following a five-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Russian won 18 of his final 20 ATP Challenger Tour matches in 2020, claiming two trophies at that level.
The 27-year-old struggled with a knee injury in 2017, which kept him out for six months. But he has found his confidence again and will crack the Top 100 for the first time following the Australian Open.
Auger-Aliassime did not lose a set in his first three matches, and he was locked in during a three-set victory against 11th seed Denis Shapovalov in the third round. But the #NextGenATP Canadian fell short of reaching his first Grand Slam quarter-final.
Did You Know?
Karatsev lost 22 games against Auger-Aliassime. In the first three rounds, he dropped 20 games combined.