Serena, Osaka set to meet in blockbuster semis; Djokovic wary of Karatsev - GulfToday

Serena, Osaka set to meet in blockbuster semis; Djokovic wary of Karatsev


Novak Djokovic plays a shot against Alexander Zverev in their Australian Open quarter-final match. Agence France-Presse

Naomi Osaka has won 19 consecutive matches but none of those wins came against Serena Williams.

Three-time major champion Osaka will meet 23-time Grand Slam singles title winner Williams in the Australian Open semifinals on Thursday. This will be their fourth match-up.

The most memorable was Osaka’s victory in the 2018 US Open final, which ended with both players in tears during the trophy ceremony. That was one of Williams’ four losses in Grand Slam finals since her last major championship, which came in Australia in 2017.

Jennifer Brady faces Karolina Muchova in the other women’s semifinal. Novak Djokovic will continue his bid for a ninth Australian Open title and 18th Grand Slam trophy overall when he plays 114th-ranked Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the day’s lone men’s semifinal.

The 27-year-old Karatsev is the first man in the professional era to reach the semifinals of his first career appearance in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament.

He has eliminated three seeded opponents already, but nothing is tougher at Melbourne Park than trying to beat Djokovic, who is 16-0 in Australian Open semifinals and finals.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic has won eight Australian Open titles but will step into unknown territory on Thursday when he faces a Russian qualifier “with nothing to lose” in the first men’s semi-final.

The world number one, who has been hampered by an abdominal injury, confessed that he had not seen much of tournament surprise Aslan Karatsev, but what little he did know convinced him not to take the world number 114 lightly.

“He’s impressed a lot of people with his movement and firepower from the baseline,” said Djokovic -- who is trying to win major number 18 -- of an opponent who has only played 18 Grand Slam sets.

“He has a flat backhand, Russian school. Great backhand. Looks to run around and also hits some good forehands to dictate the play,” added Djokovic.

“He doesn’t have anything to lose, really. He’s motivated.”

Djokovic has been battling an injury picked up in the third round, but the 33-year-old Serb semi-final will still be expected to have little trouble against the 27-year-old, who was virtually unknown before his dream-like run to the last four.

Karatsev, who is guaranteed to rise into the world’s top 50, became the first man in the Open era to reach a semi-final on his Grand Slam debut, and just the second qualifier to do so at the Australian Open after Bob Giltinan in 1977. He was also the lowest-ranked man to make the semis at a Slam since Goran Ivanisevic was ranked 125 at Wimbledon in 2001. Karatsev, whose incredible run, includes wins over Diego Schwartzmann, 20th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime and 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov, faces the ultimate test against Djokovic.

The pair have never played before, with Djokovic admitting he knew little of journeyman Karatsev, who spent a chunk of his youth in Israel, Germany and Spain and had failed on his nine previous attempts to qualify for a Grand Slam tournament.

“I expect him to come out and really go for his shots and try his best and try to take that win,” said Djokovic.

The Serbian great suffered his abdominal injury in the last-32 clash against Taylor Fritz, but battled back with the help of painkillers to win in five sets.

His injury has improved but he was hampered early in the quarter-final against Alexander Zverev, taking his frustations out by smashing his racquet, before regaining his composure to power past the sixth seed in four sets.

“Not training on the days off... I mean, that’s something that I have not ever experienced,” Djokovic said.


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