Aslan Karatsev reaches semis of major debut

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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.”

McCOCO OUT

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.

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov give Canada 1st Davis Cup title

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MALAGA, Spain — Felix Auger-Aliassime fell to his back behind the baseline, then waited for teammates to race off Canada’s bench and pile on top of him.

A few minutes later, the Canadians finally could lift the Davis Cup.

“I think of us all here, we’ve dreamt of this moment,” Auger-Aliassime said.

Canada won the title for the first time, beating Australia behind victories from Denis Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime.

Auger-Aliassime secured the winning point when he downed Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-4 after Shapovalov opened the day by rolling past Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-4.

Seven years after leading Canada to the top of junior tennis, Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov and their teammates finally got to lift the biggest team trophy in their sport.

“We wanted to grow up and be part of the team and try to help the country win the first title,” Shapovalov said, “so everything is just so surreal right now.”

Shapovalov had dropped both his singles matches this week and needed treatment on his back during a three-set loss in the semifinals to Lorenzo Sonego of Italy that lasted 3 hours, 15 minutes. But the left-hander moved quickly around the court, setting up angles to put away winners while racing to a 4-0 lead in the first set.

Auger-Aliassime then finished off his superb second half of the season by completing a perfect week in Spain. He twice had kept the Canadians alive after Shapovalov dropped the opening singles match, and he replaced his weary teammate to join Vasek Pospisil for the decisive doubles point.

This time, Auger-Aliassime made sure the doubles match wouldn’t even be necessary. After his teammates poured onto the court to celebrate with him, they got up and danced around in a circle.

Canada had reached the final only once, falling to host Spain in Madrid in 2019, when Rafael Nadal beat Shapovalov for the clinching point after Auger-Aliassime had lost in the opening match.

But with Auger-Aliassime having since surged up the rankings to his current spot at No. 6, the Canadians are a much more formidable team now. They won the ATP Cup in January and finally added the Davis Cup crown to the junior Davis Cup title Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov led them to in 2015.

Australia was trying for its 29th title and first since current captain Lleyton Hewitt was part of the title-winning team in 2003.

But it was finally time for the Canadians, who were given a wild card into the field when Russia was suspended because of its invasion of Ukraine.

“Look, I think we were very close today,” de Minaur said. “Just wait until the next time we get the same matchup. Hopefully we can get the win and prove that we can do it.”

But Canada will be tough to beat as long as Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov play.

Shapovalov is just 23 and Auger-Aliassime 22, but both already have been Grand Slam semifinalists and Auger-Aliassime ended 2022 as one of the hottest players on the ATP Tour. He won all of his four titles this year, including three straight weeks in October.

He also beat Carlos Alcaraz in the previous Davis Cup stage in September, just after the Spaniard had won the U.S. Open to rise to No. 1 in the rankings. That victory helped send the Canadians into the quarterfinals, which they started this week by edging Germany.

“They’re not kids anymore, that’s for sure. Not after today – well not after the last couple of years,” said Pospisil, the team veteran at 32. “They’ve been crushing it.”

Australia beats Croatia 2-1 to reach Davis Cup final

Day Four - Davis Cup Finals 2022
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MALAGA, Spain – Australia had to fight back twice to reach its first Davis Cup final in 19 years after beating Croatia 2-1.

Lleyton Hewitt’s team recovered from losing the first singles. Then the Australian doubles pair battled back from a set down in the decider.

Australia won its 28th and last title in 2003. It has finally got back to the final.

“I am so proud. Australia has a really rich history in this competition,” said Hewitt, who played a record 43 Davis Cup ties for Australia from 1999-2018.

“We have been fortunate to win it all on a number of occasions a long time ago. And I know what it meant to me as a player to play a final, and I am glad these guys can play it.”

Borna Coric put Croatia ahead by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-4, 6-3, but Alex de Minaur leveled after defeating Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2 to send it to the doubles.

Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell then secured the semifinal win against Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic by 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-4.

“This is what this team is about, that never-say-die attitude,” De Minaur said.

Canada will face Italy on Saturday in the other semifinal.

In the opener, Kokkinakis struck 11 aces, but Coric was able to break him once in each set.

“On my serve, I felt like it was an ace or he put it back on my toes,” Kokkinakis said.

Cilic, who was on the Croatia team that won the title in 2018, committed 10 double faults. That erratic serve helped De Minaur break Cilic four times and level his head-to-head record with the former U.S Open winner at two wins each.

Thompson and Purcell bettered the more experienced pair of Mektic and Pavic, both ranked in the top 10 in doubles. Thompson and Purcell combined for 13 aces, broke the Croats twice, and never dropped a service game to come back after losing the first-set tiebreaker.

Two-time winner Croatia was the runner-up last year.

“It proved too difficult on the court today,” Cilic said. “(But) for us it has been a great year again after the finals last year to reach the semis.”

The final is on Sunday on the indoor court in Malaga.