The only thing more stunning than Aslan Karatsev's victory over Grigor Dimitrov at the Australian Open on Tuesday was the way in which Dimitrov surrendered the third set.
The world No.114, Karatsev became the first player in 53 years of professional tennis to reach the last four of a major on his grand slam debut.
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The Russian continued his fairytale run with a 2-6 6-4 6-1 6-2 quarter-final triumph over a wounded Dimitrov on Tuesday.
After looking comfortable early and winning the first set, Dimitrov was hampered by a back issue and looked a shadow of his usual self.
At 1-5, 15-40 in the third set, Dimitrov served the ball and simply walked off the court mid-point before Karatsev hit a winner straight past him.
“There’s not much point playing like this,” Todd Woodbridge said in commentary for Channel Nine.
The 18th seed called for the trainer but was seen apologising to his entourage as his physical demons continued in the fourth.
Fans and commentators were left equally stunned by Karatsev's insane run, as well as Dimitrov's sad capitulation.
What the hell, Dimitrov! Why did you beat Thiem if you had to mug it up today?🤬😡😠
— Vaachi (@smitaj) February 16, 2021
Feel for Dimitrov.
He's always been inconsistent, and hadn't yet experienced serious scoreboard pressure prior to the QFs. But his footwork and mix of strike & slice were masterful to open this clash. No telling what could've been if he was fit. #AusOpen https://t.co/IjokIQDcKA
— Abigail Johnson (@abigailtennis) February 16, 2021
I know Dimitrov was injured, but what an inspiring run Aslan Karatsev is on.
The feel-good story that we could all do with right now #AusOpen
— Oli Dickson Jefford (@odicksonjefford) February 16, 2021
What win from Karatsev in qf. He managed to solve the problems Dimitrov was posing and cracked him phisically and mentally . A lot of credit to be given to Karatsev staff who put him at this level phisically despite support from his pt being provided remotely #AusOpen
— Joao Lopes (@joaolopes1989) February 16, 2021
Karatsev wins!! Absolutely insane..
— Arvind Vedaprakash (@arvind_r_veda) February 16, 2021
Karatsev re-writes history at Australian Open
The 27-year-old Karatsev is only the fifth qualifier to make a grand slam semi-final, joining the great John McEnroe, Aussie Bob Giltinan, Belgian Filip Dewulf and countryman Vladimir Voltchkov in the history books.
"It's an unbelievable feeling, of course. The first time playing a main draw, first time playing the semis. It's incredible," he said.
Dimitrov, a former Open semi-finalist himself, looked like stopping after losing the third set but valiantly - and forlornly - continued on after receiving treatment.
But Bulgaria's one-time World No.3 could barely move at times and his return to Rod Laver Arena for the last set was merely a stay of execution.
Dimitrov was shattered at the timing of his injury.
"It's been a while that I've been to a quarter-finals, so I really liked my chances," he said.
"I felt great. I didn't see any of that coming. It was like one of the first times that I actually felt that well at a slam.
"I haven't lost a set, moving well, serving well. I felt like finally all the components were kind of coming through without doing any extra effort.
"I actually don't know what else to say. It sucks. Again, it's sport. That's why you have to keep on trying to the end.
"I give respect to the guy, as well. He saw me struggling and he kept on doing what he had to do. That's it."
Dimitrov said the injury struck "out of the blue" on Monday.
"I just got a back spasm yesterday at some point, and that was it," he said.
"We couldn't fix it on time. It happened, I think, early in the match. It kept on progressing, and it was unstoppable. But that's enough about me. It's his day."
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