Mochizuki Madness! Wild Card Edges Popyrin, Sets Karatsev SF Clash In Tokyo

#NextGenATP 20-year-old had not won ATP Tour match prior to this week
October 20, 2023
Shintaro Mochizuki defeats Alexei Popyrin on Friday to reach his first ATP Tour semi-final. By ATP Staff

The home dream continues for Shintaro Mochizuki in Tokyo.

The #NextGenATP home favourite delivered another clutch third-set display on Friday at the Kinoshita Group Japan Open Tennis Championships, where he overcame Alexei Popyrin 7-5, 2-6, 7-5 to book a semi-final spot at the ATP 500. Mochizuki saved three break points at 5-5 in the deciding set of an absorbing quarter-final encounter before saving three game points in the final game to break Popyrin and send the Tokyo crowd into raptures.

"It's unbelievable. My expectation, I just wanted to win a round here in Tokyo," Mochizuki said in his on-court interview. "So I can't believe that I've won three matches already and tomorrow it's going to be tough again against [Aslan] Karatsev. He's been playing good here this week, but I'm just going to recover well tonight and we'll come back strong tomorrow."

The 20-year-old Mochizuki had not won a tour-level match prior to Tuesday, when he downed Tomas Martin Etcheverry, and he backed that up by upsetting top seed and defending champion Taylor Fritz in a deciding-set thriller in Tokyo. The World No. 215 once again produced a superb display of variety and quality shotmaking to upset Popyrin inside Ariake Coliseum, where he won 25 of 32 points at the net and fired 23 forehand winners.

"It was really difficult to break him, especially from the second set. First set I was tight at the beginning again and I got broken in the first game. But I came back and broke him right away and just worked hard until the end of the first set," Mochizuki said. "Second set he played well, I did nothing wrong. I did my best, but he was much better in the set. So I just came back strong again after the bathroom break and I'm happy that I broke the last game."

With his two-hour, 23-minute win, Mochizuki became the lowest-ranked Tokyo semi-finalist since then-World No. 479 Kelly Jones in 1986. The Japanese star’s standout run has also propelled him into contention for the season-ending Next Gen ATP Finals — he is up 14 spots to 15th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Jeddah, and will rise to 10th if he can defeat Aslan Karatsev in the semi-finals.

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Karatsev earlier continued to demonstrate just how dangerous his big-hitting game can be by downing fourth seed Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-2. It was a third straight-sets victory in Tokyo for the World No. 50 after earlier wins against Frances Tiafoe and Zhang Zhizhen. Karatsev converted three of five break points he earned and saved all five he faced to wrap a 96-minute win inside Ariake Coliseum.

“[I’m] playing well. I kept to my plan and kept my head clear,” said Karatsev. “[I stayed] calm in important moments. He had a few chances to break me. He’s a dangerous player. He always gives you the ball back deep and low. I think the key was to stay focused and keep my plan.”

Karatsev’s raw baseline power proved too hot to handle for De Minaur, who was the last seed standing at the ATP 500 event. Despite De Minaur deploying plenty of typically stout defence, he was unable to disrupt Karatsev’s rhythm frequently enough as the 30-year-old powered 21 winners, including 15 off his forehand wing, to his Australian opponent’s five.

Karatsev is chasing his fourth ATP Tour title and his first since Sydney in January 2022. Karatsev acknowleged he was feeling good on court in Tokyo but was reluctant to make any comparisons to his only previous ATP 500 title run in 2021 in Dubai.

“It’s a different year, a different season,” said Karatsev. “Coming for some weeks in China, where I made the semis [in Zhuhai] and lost in Shanghai, I was able to practise and come here earlier, so I could prepare here physically and mentally. I’m playing well.”

Friday’s defeat was a major blow to De Minaur’s chances of making a late charge towards the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals as the Australian was unable to capitalise on Tommy Paul’s defeat to Ben Shelton earlier in the day in Tokyo. De Minaur remains 13th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, 35 points behind 12th-placed Paul and 550 points behind Holger Rune in eighth.

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