MELBOURNE, Australia — Aslan Karatsev will have no trouble with name recognition now.
With a 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 win over 18th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, the 114th-ranked Russian qualifier became the first man in the professional era to reach the semifinals in his Grand Slam debut.
His next assignment couldn’t get any more difficult. He has to play top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who is into the semifinals in Australia for the ninth time and has never lost a match at Melbourne Park after reaching the last four. Djokovic has been bothered by an abdominal muscle problem but had enough grit to beat sixth-seeded Alexander Zverev in four tough sets in a 3 1/2-hour night match.
Just over a week ago, Karatsev was in the shadows of Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev on the Russia team that won the ATP Cup team title in Melbourne.
At the champions’ news conference, on the eve of the Australian Open, Russia coach Evgeny Donskoy pointed to a player to the left – Karatsev didn’t get to play a “live” match because Medvedev and Rublev were unbeaten in singles – and told everyone “you’re going to hear his name soon.”
That prediction has come true. All three Russians reached the quarterfinals. Two will feature in the semis.
The 27-year-old Karatsev started putting wins together on the secondary tier of international tennis late last year. Last month, he qualified for a Grand Slam tournament for the first time after nine failed attempts.
Now he has won five matches at Melbourne Park, and taken out three seeded players including Dimitrov – a three-time major semifinalist – No. 8 Diego Schwartzman and No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Karatsev said. “Of course, it’s first time. First time in main draw; first time semis. It’s incredible.”
Now people are asking questions, starting with: Where have you been?
Here’s the summary he gives: born in Russia, moved to Israel at the age of 3, back to Russia with his father at 12, on to Moscow when he was 18, then stints in Germany and Spain. For the last three years – since he’s been working with coach Yahor Yatsyk – in Minsk, Belarus.
He said he’d been moving too much, and credited Yatsyk with helping him settle. He’s had injury setbacks, too, such as a prolonged problem with his knee in 2017 when he thought long and hard about his career.
That’s where Yatsyk has had his biggest impact.
“He helps me a lot,” Karatsev said, “more the mental part.”
Karatsev is the lowest-ranked man to reach the Australian Open semifinals since Patrick McEnroe – John’s brother, who also was No. 114 in 1991 – and the lowest-ranked man to reach the semifinals at any Slam since Goran Ivanisevic was No. 125 at Wimbledon in 2001.
Karatsev was asked if he thought he go all the way. He didn’t say no.
“We will see,” he said, putting out one hand. “I try to believe that what I do on court helps me to win the matches.”
WATCH YOUR STEP
Naomi Osaka’s path to the Australian Open semifinals has included taking some careful steps on court: She avoids putting her foot down on the lines or along the white “MELBOURNE” lettering behind the baselines.
“Yeah,” Osaka said with a smile, “that’s probably superstition.”
The three-time Grand Slam champion said she isn’t sure when it started.
But Osaka did offer an explanation after her 6-2, 6-2 quarterfinal victory over Hsieh Su-wei.
“I don’t know if they have that saying here,” Osaka said, “but they say, `Step on a crack, you break your mother’s back.’ Then I just, like, started to really try avoid stepping on lines and stuff ever since then.”
The teenage team of Coco Gauff and Caty McNally – self-dubbed “McCoco” – were beaten in the women’s doubles quarterfinals at Melbourne Park.
Gauff and McNally lost to fourth-seeded Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands and Nicole Melichar of the United States 7-6 (4), 6-1.
Gauff and McNally had a 4-1 lead in the opening set before a series of unforced errors saw Schuurs and Melichar stage a comeback.
The American pair had beaten two seeded teams in previous matches.
Gauff made her Grand Slam singles breakthrough in Melbourne last year by beating defending champion Naomi Osaka to reach the fourth round, then pushing eventual champion Sofia Kenin to three sets. But the 16-year-old Gauff was ousted in the second round this year, losing to fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina.
TENNIS ON WHEELS
Dylan Alcott deliberately rammed his partner Heath Davidson during their tense victory in the Australian Open quad wheelchair doubles final.
Alcott said the tactic was designed to refocus his teammate, and it worked. The pair claimed the title with a 6-2, 3-6, 10-7 win over Andy Lapthorne of Britain and David Wagner of the United States.
Alcott said the clash of wheels in the second set was something wheelchair basketballers do if they’re nervous, just to “get contact.”
“I could see Heath glassy-eyed, just like he was looking through me, not at me,” Alcott said. “Needed a bit of a circuit breaker. Gave him a wheelchair tap – a chest bump for us wheelchair players.”
Davidson said he needed it, “just to snap me out of it.”
British pair Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid successfully defended the wheelchair doubles title by beating French duo Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer 7-5 7-6 (7-3).
Top seeds Diede De Groot and Aniek Van Koot of the Netherlands won the women’s wheelchair doubles title, beating Kgothatso Montjane of South Africa and Lucy Shuker of Britain 6-4 6-1.
In singles, Hewett plays Joachim Gerard for the men’s wheelchair title, De Groot plays Yui Kamji for the women’s wheelchair final and Alcott meets Sam Schroder in the quad wheelchair singles final.