Karatsev Saves Match Point In Belgrade Battle

Delbonis upsets fourth seed Lajovic for QF berth

Aslan Karatsev continued to tick off ‘firsts’ during his breakout season at the Serbia Open. When faced with his first deciding-set tie-break on the ATP Tour, the third-seeded Russian raised his level to take down Aljaz Bedene in a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5) nail biter and saved a match point along the way.

“You don’t think about that during the match,” Karatsev said of his latest milestone. “Every match is important, so I try to do my best… From match to match I have to improve my game. From tournament to tournament I’ve been practicing, so I’m getting more confidence [on clay].” 

Karatsev turned heads earlier in the season when he powered to his first Grand Slam semi-final as a qualifier at the Australian Open, and he backed it up a few weeks later with his maiden tour-level trophy at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. He needed two hours and 36 minutes against Bedene to reach his third quarter-final of the year.

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Contesting his first match of the week at the Novak Tennis Centre, Karatsev had to recover from an early break against the World No. 56 Sloveninan, who came into the clash after fighting past Sebastian Korda in three sets. The match was decided on the finest of margins as Bedene battled back in the second to level the score after Karatsev took the opening set.

Bedene battled to match point at 6-5 in the decider, but narrowly missed a backhand down-the-line to keep Karatsev in the contest. Karatsev continued to press in the tie-break, and finally broke through after Bedene’s third double fault.

“The weather conditions were so cold, the ball doesn’t move so you have to play long rallies,” Karatsev said. “He played really good and [was] serving well. I was a bit lucky in the end, the difference was one or two points. I was lucky that I managed the match and was able to win.”

Karatsev will next face qualifier Gianluca Mager, who took down Alexei Popyrin 7-5, 6-2 earlier in the day.

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Fourth seed Lajovic was looking to become the fourth Serbian player to reach the quarter-finals at home, following World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, eighth seed Miomir Kecmanovic and fifth seed Filip Krajinovic. But the 30-year-old Argentine had other ideas, fighting through at the Novak Tennis Centre 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

“It was a pretty tough match, I think we both played some really good tennis in different parts of the match," Delbonis said. "The third set was a bit strange, but finally I could take the last game. Otherwise, I think it [could have been] very tough for me after the huge advantage that I had in the third [set]."

Delbonis stayed calm as his opponent rallied in the second set and broke the Argentine, who was serving for the match at 5-2 in the third. Lajovic saved five match points and even fought his way to another break point in a marathon final game, but Delbonis closed it out after two hours and 24 minutes.

Up next, Delbonis will face a Japanese lucky loser in the quarter-finals after Taro Daniel rallied from a set down to topple seventh seed John Millman 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Sitting at No. 126 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, Daniel lost a tough battle to Mager earlier this week in the final round of qualifying. But he made good on his second shot in Belgrade, taking down World No. 43 Millman in two hours and 14 minutes to book a spot into his first tour-level quarter-final since Tokyo 2019.

“It feels great, especially since I came in as a lucky loser,” Daniel said in an on-court interview. “I mean, the day I lost [in qualies] I had two beers and I was lifting weights in the gym here. And then suddenly, ‘Okay, you go on court in 10 minutes.’ I was surprised.

“I’m playing free, I’m making a lot of efforts off court as well, which I think are paying off. But it’s a day-by-day process.”