Tursunov On Karatsev: 'He Was Always Talented'
Earlier this year, Aslan Karatsev, one of the breakthrough stars of 2021, told ATPTour.com that former World No. 20 Dmitry Tursunov helped him earlier in his career. There is even footage on YouTube of the pair hitting during preseason training in Dubai when Tursunov was still an active player.
Tursunov is now a coach, who works with WTA star Anett Kontaveit. ATPTour.com spoke to the Russian during the BNP Paribas Open to learn how he feels Karatsev has developed from those days until now.
As a player, was it apparent back then that Aslan always had the ability to improve his game to where he is now?
He always had massive calves. I think that’s his trademark. I think each calf should have some logo (laughs). But yeah, he was always talented. Whether he did it consciously or subconsciously I don’t know — probably more subconscious at that point — but he moved very well. He’s not the tallest guy, but he’s pretty athletic. You could see it in his movement, the way he controlled his body. A lot of it wasn’t really taught, it just comes naturally and you can enhance it by training.
But I think initially he just had a good build for the sport. He’s not too tall, he’s not too bulky. He’s just like a Da Vinci Man for tennis in a way. He felt the ball pretty well, he had the power, but it kind of comes in a very non-aggressive way. The acceleration is quite linear, so he doesn’t look like he’s hitting the ball hard. But when you hit it, it’s pretty heavy. He’s similar to a Marat Safin, but Marat was a little bit taller, so he had longer levers. But he was also athletic, moved like a cat on the court, so Aslan is sort of similar in that sense.
Photo Credit: Mike Lawrence/ATP Tour
How similar is he to Berdych with the easy power?
I think Berdych was more precision than raw power. He didn’t knock your racquet out. Some players, the ball looks deceivingly soft and then when it hits you, it hits you like a brick. Some people swing and make a lot of noise, but the ball doesn’t really hurt you. There are a few players who have that power.
Rafa looks violent when he hits the ball and then the ball is violent, so it kind of matches the way it looks and the way it feels. With Aslan, it almost is a little deceiving. It doesn’t sound like he’s hitting the ball very hard, but when it lands on your racquet, you feel like it’s pretty heavy.
You mentioned his calves. All jokes aside, from a tennis perspective, how important is it to have that physique to deal with the physical matches?
It’s a lot of work, but it’s also just not something you can just train in three months. It’s a gradual build-up of the ability and so he’s a bit of a late bloomer by men’s tennis standards. He started playing really well only recently, only maybe last year. His game I don’t think changed so much, maybe just his understanding of it: how to use it, when to hit, where to hit. [It is] just his understanding of his game. I think he needed to mature a little bit as a player, but again I haven’t really watched his career that much.
I saw he was playing a lot of Challengers. Number-wise, they look like they’re much weaker tournaments, but you still have to play a [good] guys. There are players who were in the Top 100 and got injured and are working their way back up, or some players who are close to the Top 100. You still have to play a lot of good players and I think men’s tennis has that depth where you have a lot of players who are good enough to make your life difficult, so you can’t just go through matches without breaking a sweat.
There are legitimately five tough matches that you might have to play. They might just be marginally a little bit easier than some of the ATP matches, but not by much. That’s kind of the reason why I stopped. To get back into the Top 100 I had to win these tournaments and I didn’t have the health to win two tournaments in a row, and I needed that. That’s why I think for some players it’s a little bit harder to break through, they need to put their game together.
Essentially if you’re doing well on the Challenger circuit, you can do well on the ATP circuit as well. I think if you’re winning Challenger tournaments, it’s just a matter of time before you start doing well at the ATP-level. The level is not that different in terms of physical ability.
Photo Credit: Mike Lawrence/ATP Tour
When you were mentioning about his technical game and how he’s learned where to put the ball and when, to what extent is that an experience thing that clicks one day? I think it just builds up over time. It sort of feels like it clicks one day. Some things, little “Aha!” moments come in one day. But you plant that seed a little bit earlier. Something that maybe clicks today might have been put to work a few months ago. And then a lot of times it’s maybe just one match that kind of can switch your confidence and belief that something you managed to stay in the point long enough.
Your coach can talk about it, but there might be this one particular game or a point in the match that can really drive that point home and really just open your eyes to a concept. I’m sure over one day he didn’t become an ATP player, but I think the gradual work that he had over the past two, three years, it all of a sudden kind of just came together as he started winning Challengers. If you start winning tournaments, building up your confidence in your own game, you start gaining belief in the concepts that at first you weren’t really trusting, that can have a little snowball effect.
And then once you start rolling, you’re able to never look back?
You still have to put in the work once you start rolling. But it’s easier to roll once you get going. But I also think maturity comes into play quite a bit. Now he’s a completely different person and player than three years ago in terms of understanding what it takes to be professional day-in and day-out.
There are a lot of things, but that’s what it looks like to everybody else because no one knows him. All of a sudden, he’s winning and so it’s like ‘Oh, he came from nowhere’. But no, he’s been playing tennis since he was a [baby]. It doesn’t happen magically in one day. The story looks pretty like ‘Oh, he came from nowhere’, but it’s not as glamorous behind the scenes as it is under the stage lights.