When this year’s ATP Cup began, few knew Aslan Karatsev. The Russian was outside the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings and he had never played a Grand Slam main draw. During the trophy ceremony following Team Russia’s victory, Daniil Medvedev complimented his countryman.
“Aslan, I’m not joking, was a secret weapon for doubles,” Medvedev said. “He didn’t manage to show it because we didn’t have a 1-1 match, but he was our secret weapon.”
Even the World No. 2 could not have predicted the run Karatsev has enjoyed over the past five weeks. The 27-year-old is no longer a secret. The World No. 42 has quickly proven himself one of the most dangerous players on the ATP Tour.
On Friday evening, he faced a stiff challenge in the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships against Andrey Rublev. Over the past 15 months, Rublev has mowed down opponent after opponent with raw power. But somehow, Karatsev did to his countryman what the World No. 8 does to the rest of the ATP Tour, overpowering him in a three-set victory.
Having already eliminated four seeded opponents at this ATP 500, Karatsev will play in his first ATP Tour final on Saturday against Lloyd Harris, who is also pursuing his maiden tour-level crown.
“I’m feeling good on the court, the way how I [have] competed, the way how I [have] played,” Karatsev said. “The Australian Open gave me for sure confidence.”
At the Australian Open, Karatsev, then the World No. 114, became the first man in the Open Era (since 1968) to reach the semi-finals on his Grand Slam debut. Former World No. 4 Brad Gilbert, who spoke to ATPTour.com after the Russian defeated Top 10 star Diego Schwartzman in the third round at Melbourne Park, was stunned by his success.
“The eye test tells me this dude was playing like a Top 20 player [against Schwartzman]. If me and you were sitting in the stands and you would have told me one guy was ranked No. 8 and the other guy No. 111, the guy who was No. 111 was Schwartzman,” Gilbert said. “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.
“This is like some sort of English soccer third division team, but he isn’t playing like that.”
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Now Karatsev is clearly in the Premier League, and he appears to be getting better every week. When tennis resumed last August following a five-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian was World No. 253. If he defeats Harris on Saturday, Karatsev is projected to crack the Top 30.
Of all current Top 50 players, the lowest anyone besides Karatsev was ranked when tennis resumed was Marton Fucsovics, who was World No. 84. Karatsev’s ascent is astonishing for a player who lost 11 consecutive matches in 2019, with none of those defeats coming at tour level.
How high the Russian can climb is still unclear, but the Karatsev secret is out. The breakout star, however, is only focused on what is in front of him.
“Last week I lost to Thiem, also had good chances. I lost in three sets, but I arrived here playing with confidence, playing a really good game,” Karatsev said. “[I am] looking forward to playing the final.”