Surprise Australian Open semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev just wanted to reach top 100
MELBOURNE - Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev revealed Tuesday that his humble target had merely been to break the top 100, after he made history by reaching the Australian Open semi-finals on debut.
The 27-year-old's dream run continued with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 win against injury-hit Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov to set up a last-four clash with top seed Novak Djokovic or sixth seed Alexander Zverev.
Karatsev 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, at 114, to make the semis at a Slam since Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001 when ranked 125.
His ranking is now projected to soar into the top 50 after his breakthrough performance in Melbourne.
"Of course not," Karatsev said when asked if he imagined being two wins away from a Slam title.
"My first step was to try to go to top 100 by the end of last year, and it didn't happen.
"So I said, okay, from the beginning, my first step (this year) was to be top 100. So that was my thought."
A virtual unknown before the tournament started, Karatsev has spent the bulk of his professional career fighting for points on the ATP Challenger Tour.
Karatsev, who spent some of his childhood living in Israel, revealed he had contemplated ending his career after suffering a knee injury in 2017.
But newfound belief has fuelled him in Melbourne, blitzing eighth seed Diego Schwartzmann and 20th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime on his way to meeting Dimitrov.
"I try to believe what I'm doing on the court, and it's helped me to win matches," said Karatsev.
"I arrive on the court and say, 'Okay, I try to do my best with more belief.'
Karatsev said he had already received about 200 WhatsApp messages after booking his semi-final berth.
"It's amazing....I'm just trying to enjoy the moment," he said.
His victory, however, was achieved against a player struggling with back spasms since Monday.
The 18th seed said "adrenalin" took him through the early stages of the match, but his movement became hampered as he struggled to serve and chase down returns.
"I couldn't put my socks on before the match, so I knew it was going to be a tough moment for me," Dimitrov said.
"It happened, I think, early in the match. It kept on progressing, and it was unstoppable," he added.