Karatsev emerges as breakout star after astonishing Dubai success - GulfToday

Karatsev emerges as breakout star after astonishing Dubai success

Aslan Karatsev

Aslan Karatsev has risen 15 spots to a career-high No. 27 in the rankings after claiming his first ATP Tour title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Amir Naqvi, Sports Editor

Aslan Karatsev announced himself on the big stage at the Australian Open earlier in the year, when the Russian reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion and world No1 Novak Djokovic.

On Melbourne Park’s blue hardcourts, the qualifier’s fairy tale run to the last four grabbed the attention of tennis’ aficionados as he became the first man in the Open era to reach the semi-finals on his maiden appearance at a Grand Slam.

The Russian had attempted to qualify for the main draw at nine previous Grand Slams, starting with Wimbledon in 2014, but failed each time. In Melbourne, however, his dreams eventually came true.

Ranked a modest 114 before the start of the year’s opening Grand Slam, he was in the Top 50 a fortnight later, following his magical run in Melbourne.

Fast forward, Karatsev arrived in Dubai unseeded, received a wildcard from the organisers and emerged as breakout star with a straight sets win over qualifier Lloyd Harris 6-3, 6-2 in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday to claim the first ATP Tour title of his career.

He also became the first ever Russian to win the Dubai title, going one step further than Marat Safin (2001) and Mikhail Youzhny (2007 and 2010), who finished as runners-up. His meteoric rise is astonishing for a player who lost 11 straight matches in 2019, with none of those defeats coming at tour level. The maiden crown has now propelled him to career-high No. 27 in the rankings released on Monday.

“It means a lot. It was a long journey from 18 years old, when I stopped playing the juniors and turned pro. It’s almost 10 years, or even more. So it’s a long journey, and I put in a lot of hard work,” he said.

He has been playing tennis for several years with little success and even considered quitting the game in 2017 when he struggled with a knee injury.

“There were a lot of ups and downs. I also was injured during this time, so I’m really happy that I recovered and was ready to compete again on that level,” added Karastsev, who also lifted his first doubles trophy last week in Doha with Andrey Rublev.

Karatsev also credited his Australian Open run for giving him the much-needed confidence and for his newfound success on the court.

He was also part of Daniil Medvedev-led Russian team consisting of Karen Khachanov and Rublev, who bagged the ATP Cup with a dominant win over Italy in February.

“It all started with the ATP Cup, we clinched the trophy. And playing a great two weeks in Australia gave me a lot of confidence. I arrived in Dubai with full energy after winning a title in doubles in Doha.”

En route to the final, the Russian battled past four matches in three sets and defeated four seeded players. He faced the biggest test of his Dubai campaign when he squared off against second seed Andrey Rublev in the semi-finals.

Karstsev took more than two hours to halt the 23-match ATP 500 win streak of world number eight and tournament favourite Rublev.

“I was preparing myself just for every single match, because every match here is really tough. I think the difficult one, mentally, was the semi-final against Rublev. I tried to dictate more with my game, and I prepared a lot mentally for that match.

“We played together one week in Doha and we won the trophy. But once you are playing each other, you step on the court and you’re opponents. It is your job. And a win like this gives you a lot of confidence because you see the level that these Top 10 players are competing with. It gives me confidence that I really can be there and play at that level,” he added.

His next appearance will be in Miami. Talking about his participation in the event, Karastev said: “Every week it starts from the beginning. You have to compete. You have to prepare your body. You have to be ready mentally and physically.”

Karatsev plays for Russia but grew up and trained in Israel. “I moved to Israel when I was three years old with my family and then I started to practice there.

“I grew up there, practicing there until 12 years old, and then I moved back to Russia with my father. I was practicing there until 18 years old, then I started practicing in Moscow.”

He has great admiration for Roger Federer, saying it’s unbelievable to watch what the Swiss Maestro he does on the court.

“I always liked to watch Roger Federer play during my childhood days. At that time when I was growing up there were fantastic matches between Agassi and Sampras. Federer’s game is unbelievable.”

Related articles