Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on 17 February 2021.
Aslan Karatsev was the breakthrough player of this year’s Australian Open, where he made the semi-finals as a qualifier. The Russian upset three seeded opponents during his dream run — Diego Schwartzman, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Grigor Dimitrov.
Karatsev has maintained his momentum since departing Melbourne. He defeated countryman Andrey Rublev on Friday to reach his first ATP Tour final at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Before Karatsev plays Lloyd Harris for the trophy, ATPTour.com looks at five things you should know about the Russian.
1) The Russian’s Run Of Form Started On The ATP Challenger Tour
Before Karatsev won his three qualifying matches last month in Doha, he had never previously made it through Grand Slam qualifying. This was his 10th attempt to reach the main draw at a major, and the Russian has made the most of his successful effort by thriving at Melbourne Park. Karatsev is the first man in the Open Era to reach the semi-finals on his Grand Slam debut.
Karatsev’s success began after tennis resumed last August. Karatsev was No. 253 in the FedEx ATP Rankings when he entered his first ATP Challenger Tour event in Prague following a five-month Tour suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He won 18 of his final 20 Challenger matches on the season, claiming two of his three titles at that level.
2) From Russia To Israel, Germany To Spain & More
Karatsev was born in Vladikavkaz, Russia, before moving with his family to Israel at the age of three. He trained in Israel until 12, when he returned to Taganrog, Russia with his father. Karatsev practised there until he was 18, when he shifted to Moscow.
The righty moved to Halle, Germany for two years, then Barcelona, Spain and finally, for almost the past three years, Minsk, Belarus. “I was moving I would say too much,” Karatsev admitted.
Karatsev believes that working with Yahor Yatsyk, a 28-year-old Belarusian, has proven key to his surge.
“I think the key is to find the right team, the right coach [who] I found. I was really lucky to find him, and we just met in one tournament. I played futures, and we were saying, ‘Okay, let’s try to work together.’ I think it’s a big luck that we started to work together and I have a good team around me.”
3) A Knee Injury Caused A Setback In 2017
The Russian struggled with a knee injury in 2017. Karatsev suffered the injury while training in Spain, and it caused him to miss six months.
“From this moment it was really tough to get the confidence back and to feel the game,” Karatsev said. “It was not that easy.”
That stretch of time off the court sent Karatsev’s FedEx ATP Ranking as low as No. 764 in October 2017.
4) Karatsev Has Soared Up The FedEx ATP Rankings
One of Karatsev’s biggest goals last season was to crack the Top 100 for the first time. While the Russian was unable to do so, he has soared far beyond that mark already in 2021. After his Australian Open run, Karatsev immediately cracked the Top 50 of the FedEx ATP Rankings.
With his efforts in Dubai, where the Russian has beaten four seeded opponents, Karatsev is charing towards the Top 30. If the 27-year-old wins the title, he is projected to crack that mark.
5) He Was Russia’s “Secret Weapon” In The ATP Cup
Karatsev was part of the Russian team that won the ATP Cup alongside Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and playing captain Evgeny Donskoy. The 27-year-old’s teammates had high praise for him.
“Aslan, I’m not joking, was a secret weapon for doubles,” Medvedev said during the trophy ceremony. “He didn’t manage to show it because we didn’t have a 1-1 match, but he was our secret weapon.”
Donskoy made a prediction after they lifted the trophy, saying: ”Aslan, I am sure you are going to have a great season this year, because you are playing unbelievably.”
Karatsev has proven his captain right.