Aslan Karatsev shocked top seed Novak Djokovic to clinch ched the biggest victory of his career and reach the Serbia Open final.
The 27-year-old Russian saved 23 of 28 break points to register a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 win in a match that lasted three-hours and 25 minutes – the longest ATP match of the 2021 so far.
“It was a long, tough match (against a) tough opponent,” said the World No 28 after the match.
“You have to put (in) like 200 per cent to beat this guy, it’s like playing against a wall. And he also made some good shots. He doesn’t give you any free points. He always makes you play and you have to be always there because once you miss a couple of shots, he just takes it very quickly. That’s how I lost the second set.”
This was the first time the pair met after Djokovic won their Australian Open semi-final clash earlier this year. The Russian, who was ranked 112 at the start of the year, now takes on second seed Matteo Berrettini in the final.
Self-belief was key
“I stepped on the court to win. I was believing (in myself), and I said to myself that I would play every ball no matter what,” Karatsev said. “I tried to keep this strategy that we spoke about with the coach. You have to fight for every ball, that was the key to success.”
Djokovic powered his way to 2-0 leads in the first two sets against the reigning Dubai Open champion. But in both sets, Karatsev didn’t allow Djokovic to settle into the lead, breaking back quickly and pressing the Serbian from the baseline with punishing rallies.
After Karatsev claimed the opening set, he looked to be closing in on a straight-sets win as he took a 4-2 lead in the second. But Djokovic, on home turf, responded emphatically. He raised his level and reeled off the next four games in a row.
3. HOURS. 25. MINUTES 🤯
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) April 24, 2021
But in a 73-minute deciding set that came down the wire, it was Djokovic who blinked first. Karatsev took time away from his opponent by going to the net regularly and closing out points with smart forehand drive volleys.
He also honed in on the Djokovic second serve, winning 52 per cent of points (23/44) behind the Serbian’s second delivery. Karatsev earned the lone break at 4-3, denying Djokovic 10 break points in the final set en route to the final.
“I’m really happy, I put everything on the court. The match was long. I’m really happy with my performance today,” Karatsev said.
With his fifth tour-level clay-court victory, Karatsev snapped Djokovic’s 11-match winning streak on home soil (30-4 overall) dating back to Davis Cup in 2011.