Karatsev On Belgrade Marathon: ‘I Put Everything On The Court’
The breakthrough story of the 2021 season just added another chapter at the Serbia Open, and this one is proving the most epic yet.
Up against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and in his opponent’s home tournament, Aslan Karatsev survived the longest ATP Tour match of the year to pull off a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 stunner. The Russian improved to 1-1 in his ATP Head2Head record against Djokovic, avenging his semi-final defeat at this year’s Australian Open.
“I stepped on the court to win. I was believing [in myself], and I said to myself that I would play every ball no matter what,” Karatsev said in a post-match press conference. “I tried to keep this strategy that we spoke about with the coach. You have to fight for every ball, that was the key to success.”
In Djokovic’s Melbourne Park home-away-from-home court, Karatsev was not able to apply pressure on his opponent en route to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 defeat. But at the Novak Tennis Centre in Belgrade, the World No. 28 turned the tables.
“This is definitely [the biggest win of my career], it’s the World No. 1,” Karatsev said. “I’m really happy, I put everything on the court. The match was long. I’m really happy with my performance today.”
Even more eye-catching than the result or the three-hour and 25-minute match length, a look down the stats sheet showed one astonishing key to Karatsev’s victory. Up against one of the best returners of the game in Djokovic, Karatsev faced 28 break points and saved 23 of them – including all 10 in the deciding set – in an emphatic display of mental fortitude.
“There’s not much that I can say was going on in my mind [during those break points],” Karatsev admitted. “You have to be aggressive against these kinds of players. If you’re not playing aggressive, it’s like you’re hitting against the wall. Everything is coming back, deep, and he moves you a lot. Once you give him the opportunity, he starts to move you and then you run [a lot]. That was my main goal, staying aggressive.”
Through to his second ATP Tour final, the reigning Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships winner will be seeking just his sixth main draw victory on clay when he faces second seed Matteo Berrettini, ranked World No. 10, in Belgrade.
The 27-year-old has recorded an endless list of ‘firsts’ in his breakout season, from first Grand Slam semi-final to first ATP Tour title and, now, first win over a World No. 1. After starting the year at World No. 114 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, Karatsev is rapidly closing in on his own personal goal.
“First I have to be Top 20, and then I will put another goal,” he said. “But first I have to reach the Top 20, because it’s big difference in points. I have to prepare every single tournament that I play to be there always.”