Australian Open SFs preview & predictions: Djokovic-Karatsev, Medvedev-Tsitsipas

Three of the top five men’s Australian Open seeds have reached the semi-finals of the tournament. No great surprise there. And then, there’s Aslan Karatsev.

Karatsev, the Russian qualifier who was ranked 114 in the world before this event began, is playing a Grand Slam main draw event for the first time and, well, totally smashing it.

It took him 10 attempts to qualify for a Slam main draw for the first time and he had never beaten a player in the top-40. Now he’s recorded a first top-10 win and beaten three top-20 seeds.

He will now get a blast at the world No. 1, Novak Djokovic.

In normal times, it would be tough to give Karatsev, 27, any real hope of taking out the eight-time Australian Open champion.

But these are curious times and the qualifier appears fearless in the face of danger at the top level – something all the more remarkable when you consider he was outside the world’s top-250 just a year ago.

He has certainly caught Djokovic’s eye.

‘I have not seen him play honestly before Australian Open,’ said the 33-year-old. ‘I have seen him play during the tournament here, and he impressed me, impressed a lot of people.

‘His movement, his firepower from baseline. Flat backhand, Russian school, great backhand. Looks to run around. Also hits some good forehands, dictate the play.

‘And he is impressive. I mean, two sets down against Felix [Auger-Aliassime] coming back. He was just very solid against Grigor [Dimitrov]. Unfortunately, and obviously Grigor couldn’t play at his best from the end of that second, beginning of the third.

‘But he’s there for a reason, and congratulate him for great success. It’s going to be our first encounter. Hoping I can be physically fit and looking forward to it.’

Karatsev’s cause may be helped by Djokovic’s mystery injury.

In one of the more peculiar matches of the tournament, the top seed threw away a two sets to love lead against USA’s Taylor Fritz and claimed he had torn his ab.

He has since returned and put two top-20 players, Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev to the sword.

How injured is he? Who knows. It’s clear that the diagnosis is not as grave as first feared but as with any injury, there’s a risk of things taking a turn for the worse.

That will be far from his Russian opponent’s mind as he focuses on causing an almighty upset. ‘Of course it’s amazing that I passed to semifinal from qualifying, qualification,’ said Karatsev. ‘I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and not thinking about that too much and playing from round to round.’

It’s an interesting quirk that the last man ranked as low as Karatsev to reach a men’s Grand Slam final, 2001 Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, will be sat in Djokovic’s box, hoping to deny a fellow outsider’s fairy tale ending.

One has to be think Team Djokovic will put a halt to this run, whether fully fit or not. But you never know.

If Djokovic reaching the final appears a foregone conclusion – on paper, at least – there’s little to choose between Friday’s semi-finalists.

Stefanos Tsitsipas will arrive as fresh as one can be after a five-set tussle with Rafael Nadal.

Routes to Australian Open semi-finals

Novak Djokovic

R1: 6-3 6-1 6-2 Chardy
R2: 6-3 6-7 7-6 6-3 Tiafoe
R3: 7-6 6-4 3-6 4-6 6-2 Fritz
R4: 7-6 4-6 6-1 6-4 Raonic
QF: 6-7 6-2 6-4 7-6 Zverev

Aslan Karatsev

R1: 6-3 6-3 6-4 Mager
R2: 6-0 6-1 6-0 Gerasimov
R3: 6-3 6-3 6-3 Schwartzman
R4: 3-6 1-6 6-3 6-3 6-4 Auger Aliassime
QF: 2-6 6-4 6-1 6-2 Dimitrov

Daniil Medvedev

R1: 6-2 6-2 6-4 Pospisil
R2: 6-2 7-5 6-1 Carballes Baena
R3: 6-3 6-3 4-6 3-6 6-0 Krajinovic
R4: 6-4 6-2 6-3 McDonald
QF: 7-5 6-3 6-2 Rublev

Stefanos Tsitsipas

R1: 6-1 6-2 6-1 Simon
R2: 6-7 6-4 6-1 6-7 6-4 Kokkinakis
R3: 6-4 6-1 6-1 Ymer
R4: W/O Berrettini
QF: 3-6 2-6 7-6 6-4 7-5 Nadal

The Greek, who has reached a third Grand Slam semi-final and is yet to go further, looked to be heading for the exit door when two sets to love down to the world No. 2 from Spain.

But astonishingly he inflicted just the third career defeat on Nadal from when he held a two-sets lead.

‘The thing is that I wasn’t really thinking about a lot of things,’ said Tsitsipas after the win. ‘Nothing was going through my head. I was so much – how would I describe myself? Nirvana. Just, like, there. Playing, not thinking.’

His reward is an inevitably gruelling battle with Daniil Medvedev, the world No. 4 from Russia.

Medvedev is on a 19-match win streak after finishing 2020 with back-to-back wins at the Paris Masters and the ATP Finals, and has arguably established himself as the biggest threat to Djokovic on a hard court.

Aside from a third round wobble when he tossed away a two-set lead against Serbia’s Filip Krajiniovic before regaining his composure, this tournament has been plain sailing for Medvedev, who could almost be accused of methodically torturing his opponents on court both physically and mentally.

It should be an interesting clash of styles, with Tsitsipas playing a more swashbuckling brand of tennis compared to Medvedev’s more patient approach.

‘Might have said in the past that he plays boring, but I don’t really think he plays boring,’ said Tsitsipas. ‘He just plays extremely smart and outplays you. He’s somebody I really need to be careful with and just take my chances and press. That would be very important.’

The respect across the net is mutual, with Medvedev impressed by Tsitsipas’s recent improvements.

‘Stefanos is an amazing player, big serve, great volley. Tough to play,’ said the Russian. ‘I think he’s improving physically because maybe two years ago could say, yeah, out of five sets it’s maybe not bad to play him. I don’t think it’s the case right now.’

Despite Tsitsipas’s stunning fightback against Nadal, Medvedev presents an even greater challenge on this surface.

That’s not to say it will be one-sided, the Greek should get his opportunities, but expect Medvedev to join Djokovic in the final.

Predictions: Djokovic to beat Karatsev in 3, Medvedev to beat Tsitsipas in 4

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