Australian Open: Karatsev goes from nomadic no-hoper to grand slam giant-killer

By Sports Desk February 16, 2021

Aslan Karatsev said finding stability off the court has helped him become the revelation of this year's Australian Open after the qualifier marched on to the semi-finals.

The Russian became the first qualifier to reach the last four of a major since Vladimir Voltchkov, famously in borrowed shorts, did so in 2000 at Wimbledon.

It was Pete Sampras who eventually blew away Voltchkov's threat at the All England Club on his way to another title.

And it turns out there is a connection between Karatsev and Voltchkov, with both men now calling Minsk their home.

But whereas Voltchkov is Minsk born and bred, Karatsev has taken a roundabout route to setting down roots in the capital of Belarus.

He explained on Tuesday how he was born in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz before moving as a toddler to Israel with his family and living there until the age of 12, when he and his father returned to Russia, spending time in the city of Taganrog.

Tennis took him to training bases in Moscow, then Halle in Germany, Barcelona, and finally Minsk.

It is in Minsk that Karatsev has linked up with former ATP professional Yahor Yatsyk, a man only one year his senior but already settling into coaching.

As Grigor Dimitrov succumbed to injury and slid to a four-set defeat against Karatsev on Tuesday, the unlikely figure in the final four reflected on his long road to this point.

"Yes, I was moving I would say too much," Karatsev said of his nomadic existence.

"In the end I found a coach, Yahor Yatsyk, and this is the right guy for me. He's helped me a lot, more the mental part, and then of course there is the technical stuff as well.

"I like to work with him. We're living in Minsk. We're practicing there."

Karatsev is the lowest-ranked man to reach a grand slam semi-final since Goran Ivanisevic, who won Wimbledon in 2001 on a wildcard entry while ranked 125th in the world.

His charge through the draw makes him only the second qualifier to advance to the Australian Open last four, after Bob Giltinan in December 1977.

"Of course it's amazing that I passed to the semi-finals from qualifying," Karatsev said. "I'm just trying to enjoy the moment and not thinking about that too much and playing from round to round."

He and Yatsyk set the goal of reaching the top 100, which Karatsev had not managed before getting to Melbourne.

Before this fortnight he stood at 114th in the rankings, but he will hurtle to a double-digit ranking next week.

"I think the key is to find the right team, the right coach that I found. I was really lucky to find him," Karatsev said.

"We just met in one tournament. We were saying, 'Okay, let's try to work together', and it's really a big luck that we started to work together and I have a good team around me."

Before he encountered Yatsyk, who as a player did not crack the top 1,000 in singles, Karatsev had a brief moment when he wondered if he might not make the grade.

"There was a time when I was injured that was a difficult time for me because I recovered after the injury, and then 2017 started, and I started to play again, and again I felt the knee," Karatsev said. "I said, 'Whoa.' I quit again for two and a half months, almost three, and I think this is the most difficult part."

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