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Aslan Karatsev celebrates beating No. 18 seed Grigor Dimitrov on Tuesday for a place in the Australian Open semi-finals.

World No. 114 Karatsev's Historic Run Continues Into Australian Open SFs

Dimitrov struggles with back, Russian moves into last four on Slam debut

Aslan Karatsev made history on Tuesday at the Australian Open, becoming the first man in the Open Era to reach the semi-finals on his Grand Slam debut.

Karatsev got off to a slow start against 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov, but rallied for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 win against the physically ailing Bulgarian after two hours and 32 minutes. Dimitrov looked sharp early, but at the beginning of the third set he began to show severe limitations in his service motion and movement, which limited his chances.

"It's an unbelievable feeling. Of course it's my first time playing [a Grand Slam] main draw, first time [in the] semis," Karatsev said in his on-court interview. "It's incredible."

After the third set, Dimitrov took a medical timeout off court and attempted to battle through an apparent back injury. While the former World No. 3 did not retire, his condition did not improve enough for him to keep the match close in the final two sets.

"It was really tough from the beginning for me to hold the nerves. It was really tricky," Karatsev said. "I tried to find a way how to play and then in the third set he felt the back."

Karatsev, who is No. 114 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, had previously attempted to qualify for nine Grand Slam championships, falling short each time. In January, he finally broke through in Doha to earn his spot in this Australian Open, and he has made the most of it. The 27-year-old is the fifth qualifier to reach the semi-finals of a major in the Open Era. Karatsev is just the second man to accomplish the feat Down Under, joining Bob Giltinan, who did so in 1977.

Qualifiers To Reach Grand Slam Semi-finals (Open Era)

 Player  Tournament
 John McEnroe  1977 Wimbledon
 Bob Giltinan  1977 Australian Open
 Filip Dewulf  1997 Roland Garros
 Vladimir Voltchkov  2000 Wimbledon
 Aslan Karatsev  2021 Australian Open

Karatsev showed nerves in the early going, making 19 unforced errors in the first set. Dimitrov showed great footwork to force the Russian to play extra balls. The 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion, used his backhand slice to great effect, throwing the aggressive qualifier off his game.

But after Karatsev saved five break points in his first service game of the second set, the tone of the match changed. The World No. 114 still made mistakes at times — striking 15 unforced errors in the second set — but he remained in rallies long enough to bring Dimitrov's level down. 

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The pair traded breaks in the middle of the set, but Karatsev struck the decisive blow when he crushed a backhand winner up the line and served out the second set to love. Dimitrov's movement increasingly looked troubled, and his service speed significantly dropped.

From then on, Karatsev hammered away at slow serves and maintained his composure in rallies. Dimitrov fought until the end, but he was unable to reach his fourth Grand Slam semi-final.

Karatsev had never competed at a major before this fortnight, but he is high on confidence. After the Tour's five-month suspension last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he won 18 of his season's final 20 ATP Challenger Tour matches. Less than two weeks ago, Karatsev was a member of Russia's ATP Cup-winning team alongside Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and playing captain Evgeny Donskoy. During the trophy ceremony, Medvedev referred to Karatsev as their team's "secret weapon".

The qualifier will try to ride his Grand Slam dream into the final when he faces World No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Thursday. Karatsev has defeated three seeded players in this Australian Open (No. 8 Schwartzman, No. 20 Auger-Aliassime and No. 18 Dimitrov).

Did You Know?
Karatsev began this Australian Open with a 3-10 tour-level record. The Russian is 5-0 in this event with the loss of just three sets. Two of those came in the fourth round, when he rallied from a two-set deficit to defeat #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime.

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