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Karatsev Creates History, Djokovic Battles Injury; Serena and Osaka Set Up Semifinal Showdown at Australian Open

Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev created history to reach the Australian Open semifinals on debut. He will face World No. 1 Novak Djokovic for a place in the final. On the women’s side of the draw the big semifinal will feature Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, both of whom cruised through their quarters with relative ease.
Russian tennis player Aslan Karatsev

Aslan Karatsev beat Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena Tuesday (Pic: Australian Open, Twitter).

Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev became the first man in over half a century of professional tennis to reach a Grand Slam semifinal on debut. He overcame Grigor Dimitrov in four sets at the Australian Open on Tuesday to make a select bit of history that will endure forever.

Karatsev beat Bulgarian Dimitrov 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena to set up a last-four clash with top seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic, who beat Alexander Zverev 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (6) in the second quarter final of the day.

The Serbian world No. 1 hit back strongly against Zverev after losing the opening set via tiebreak. He, however, trailed in both the third and fourth sets before turning them around. Djokovic wore tape on his abdominal area, a sign that the injury picked up in his third-round win over Taylor Fritz is still bothering him. Curiously enough, Zverev was bandaged up in similar fashion. Djokovic’s movement on court or gameplay seemed unaffected through a match where he was forced to raise his level to match the German’s frequently.

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For the ATP President, next is an outlier and it remains to be seen whether Karatsev, 27, would be able to continue his dream run to the final. The Russian has been in good touch so far in the tournament and in the quarterfinals against Dimitrov, he showed that his run is not a fluke. He was helped a little by the fact that Dimitrov was injured in the third set. Dimitrov called for a medical timeout and was heard on the court microphone saying he had "spasms" on the lower back. 

The 18th seed returned to the match but his movement was hampered as she struggled to serve and chase down returns.

"Unbelievable feeling, first time in semis. Incredible," said Karatsev after the match. "It was tough at the beginning for me to hold my nerves, but I tried to find a way to play."

He is set to walk into Rod Laver Arena for a $850,000 payday – more than double his $794,000 career earnings so far. This is regardless of the outcome of the match against Djokovic. 

In the past week and a half the Russian’s five victories include a straight-sets win over eighth seed Diego Schwartzman and a five-set comeback win over 20th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime. 

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The cards were well and truly stacked against Karatsev before he even took the court against Dimitrov. But he started with rather compelling tennis which has been a hallmark of his run so far, breaking Dimitrov in the third game of the match to take an early lead. So, the narrative was not just of a lower ranked player taking advantage of an injury. Karatsev did push Dimitrov in the match, much before the injury struck.

Karatsev became just the second qualifier to make it to the semifinal stage of the Australian Open after Bob Giltinan in 1977. The World No. 114 is also the lowest-ranked man to make the semis at a Slam since Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001. Ivanisevic was ranked 125th at the time.

Serena Sets Up Osaka Tussle

Serena Williams beat second seed Simona Halep in the quarterfinals to return to the Australian Open semifinals for the first time since her championship winning year in 2017. 

Williams won 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals, the forceful victory coming despite 33 unforced errors. She will take on Naomi Osaka, who overpowered Hsieh Su-wei 6-2, 6-2 in the first quarterfinal.

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Williams is chasing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title in Melbourne this year. The American was unstoppable in the first set against Halep but wobbled a bit early in the second and trailed 1-3. She, however, turned things back, sealing the match with a forehand winner. 

Earlier, three-time Grand Slam champion Osaka advanced after making short work of Hseih. Osaka hit seven aces, lost only two points on her first serve and was never broken.

Osaka is in the middle of a victorious run that has seen her win 19 consecutive matches. The streak includes a US Open title in September and the fourth-round win last week, when she saved two match points and swept the final four games to beat Garbiñe Muguruza.

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