Aslan Karatsev’s unprecedented debut grand slam run has ended at the hands of Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open-winning machine advancing to his ninth final at Melbourne Park, having won each of his previous eight tournament deciders.
The Serbian beat Karatsev in straight sets 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday night to set up a clash with either Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas or Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in Sunday evening’s final.
Novak Djokovic proved too good for Aslan Karatsev in their semi-final on Thursday night.Credit:Getty Images
Karatsev, the 27-year-old Russian qualifier in his first grand slam, will go from world No.114 into the top 50 because of his breakout effort, which included wins over No.8 seed Diego Schwartzman, No.18 seed Grigor Dimitrov and No.20 seed Felix Auger Aliassime.
In the two latter matches Karatsev came from two sets to love and one set to love down to win.
Karatsev’s coach spoke about how in the pandemic-impacted year of 2020 he was able to drill into weaknesses in his game and also stop him behaving “like a little child”, two key factors in his barnstorming start to 2021.
But against the world No.1 Djokovic, he was comparatively powerless.
Novak Djokovic celebrates his victory.Credit:Getty Images
Despite a stutter to hand Karatsev a break when serving for the second set at 5-2, Djokovic played very close to flawless to build the majority of his two set to love lead.
Deep into that second set Djokovic had made only one unforced error and hit 14 winners. He had also whacked the ball harder on his forehand (on average) than he had in his run to the semi-final this year.
There were also 10 Djokovic aces to three at the same stage of the match.
Karatsev made Djokovic earn the last game of the second set. He forced the 17-time grand slam winner into a 32-shot rally, won with a silky drop shot, to bring up 40-40 when 5-4 down. Then he made Djokovic defend two breaks points. Djokovic won eventually.
Against any other opponent Karatsev may have won through to his first grand slam final.
He didn’t do a lot wrong, cracking his forehand as sweetly as anyone has this year at Melbourne Park.
But Djokovic’s defence under attack is sublime and the relentlessness of it forces errors. Karatsev couldn’t stop enough of them off his racquet.
This guided Djokovic to win the third set, and the match. He now has the chance to go to 18 grand slam titles, another one closer to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s record of 20.
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