Aslan Karatsev insists that his breakthrough at the Australian Open is no fluke, but down to hard work after he reached the quarter-finals on Sunday.
The Russian became the first Grand Slam championship debutant to reach the quarter-finals since Romania’s Alex Radulescu at 1996 Wimbledon after he came back from two-sets-to-love down to beat Canadian No. 20 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime at Melbourne Park.
“[It’s] amazing, amazing,” said Karatsev. “It was a big win from 0-2 [sets] down and emotionally it was tough… I am trying to focus more on the tournament, on the matches [than records].”
Andre Agassi’s former coach Brad Gilbert told ATPTour.com, “This is like some sort of English soccer third division team, but he isn’t playing like that.”
Is World No. 114 Karatsev surprised by his performances at Melbourne Park? “I try not to show it,” Karatsev said, laughing. “It’s a good feeling. … It’s impressive, but I was working a lot, and it just happened right now.”
The 27-year-old Karatsev has played only 17 tour-level matches during his career. On Friday, he swept past eighth-seeded Argentinean Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 for a place in the Australian Open third round.
“If you didn’t know this guy, you would have said, ‘Wow, that guy is the way higher-ranked player because he is balling right now’,” said former World No. 4 Gilbert. “The eye test told me this dude was playing like a Top 20 player [against Schwartzman]. If you and I were sitting in the stands and you would have told me one guy was ranked World No. 9 and the other guy No. 114, the guy who was No. 114 was Schwartzman. He just man-handled him. Schwartzman didn’t play bad, he didn’t lose. The guy just took it from him. I was blown away.”
Gilbert believes that Karatsev’s involvement in Russia’s ATP Cup-winning team, and being around his teammates Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, must have helped tremendously to develop his aggressive game style.
“I play aggressively [and] try to play [a] more aggressive style, like going for big serves, and to work the points as short as I can,” said Karatsev, who five years ago was sidelined for six months due to a knee injury. “I don’t like long points and [running] behind the baseline that much. [I] try to stay close to the line.”
Karatsev has been in great form since tennis resumed in August 2020 following a five-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Russian won 18 of his final 20 ATP Challenger Tour matches in 2020, claiming two trophies at that level.
“This is the beauty of tennis,” said Gilbert. “Look at the [Italian, Salvatore Caruso] who played Fognini [in the Australian Open second round], who is all of a sudden [playing well]. We’re seeing a lot more guys that are aged 25-plus, who have been career Challenger players, who, all of a sudden, they’ve worked on their game. Some guys aren’t mentally ready to blossom at 21.
“It just shows you that if you keep working with a positive attitude, [then] all of a sudden, if you’re ready for [an] opportunity, sometimes you can take advantage of it. This is the greatness of tennis, sports. The best story. I love stories like this.”
Karatsev will play Bulgarian No. 18 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the Australian Open quarter-finals on Tuesday.