Russian qualifier Karatsev into Open semis

·3-min read

Punters could have taken any old odds for Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev to be the first man through to the 2021 Australian Open semi-finals at Melbourne Park.

But they'd be collecting, too, after the world No.114 became the first player in 53 years of professional tennis to reach the last four of a major on his grand slam debut.

Karatsev continued his fairytale run with a 2-6 6-4 6-1 6-2 quarter-final triumph over a wounded Grigor Dimitrov on Tuesday.

The 27-year-old is also 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 for a back injury.

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."

Indeed. While it was a cruel end for Dimitrov, it was an historic day for Karatsev.

"It was a really tough one at the beginning for me, to hold the nerves, and it was really tricky. The heat was too much," he said.

"I tried to play in the second set. I tried to find a way how to play, and then in the third set it felt better."

Karatsev said he didn't know Dimitrov was hurt, until it became obvious when the world No.20's service speed slowed to little more than half pace, virtually rolling his shoulder over to put the ball over the net.

Nor is Karatsev being distracted by the prospect of a potential all-Russian final against either fourth seed Daniil Medvedev or seventh seed Andrey Rublev, who clash in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

"I try not to think about it," he said after first booking a showdown on Thursday with either world No.1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic or German sixth seed Alexander Zverev.

"I just try to think to play every match, going from match to match."