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Monday September 20th, 2021 4:04PM

Karatsev makes Grand Slam semifinals on debut in Australia

By The Associated Press
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Aslan Karatsev arrived in Australia to play in a first Grand Slam main draw for the first time, and he'll leave owning a piece of history.

The 114th-ranked qualifier from Russia become the first man in the professional era to reach the semifinals in his Grand Slam debut when he beat 18th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 on Tuesday.

“It's an unbelievable feeling,” the 27-year-old Karatsev said. “Of course, it's first time. First time in main draw. First time semis. It's incredible.”

It has been an incredible run for a player who'd failed nine times in trying to qualify for the majors.

Dimitrov finished the match barely able to serve, and barely able to walk as he left the stadium arena.

A previous semifinalist in Australia, Dimitrov jumped out to an early lead with three service breaks in the first set. He had seven breakpoint chances in Karatsev's first two service games in the second set, but didn't convert any of them.

That's when the 27-year-old Russian started to believe he could stretch his already remarkable run even further.

“It was really tough in the beginning for me, to hold my nerves,” Karatsev said. “It was tricky. I tried to play in the second set, to find a way how to play. In the third set ... played better.”

Dimitrov stopped chasing shots in the third set and, at the last changeover, asked to see the trainer.

After that set, Dimitrov was visited by a trainer and then took a medical timeout for treatment on a muscle problem around his hip or back. He had a quick resurgence, but it ended just as quickly.

Dimitrov hadn’t dropped a set in his first four matches.

Karatsev was coming off his first-ever five-setter after coming back from two sets down to beat No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime. He also beat eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman in straight sets for his first win over a Top 10 player.

He's the lowest-ranked man to reach the Australian Open semifinals since No. 114 Patrick McEnroe in 1991, and the lowest-ranked man to reach the semifinals at any Grand Slam since No. 125 Goran Ivanisevic at 2001 Wimbledon.

Karatsev will play either defending champion Novak Djokovic or Alexander Zverev next. Russians Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev are meeting in a quarterfinal on the other half of the draw on Wednesday, meaning there'll be two Russians in the semifinals at Melbourne Park.

Asked for his thoughts on an all-Russian championship decider, Karatsev stuck with what he knows.

“I try not to think about it,” he said. Just, “going from match to match.”

For Naomi Osaka, the tournament buzz at the Australian Open spoiled the surprise: She might face Serena Williams next.

Osaka overpowered Hsieh Su-wei 6-2, 6-2 to reach the semifinals, and will meet the winner of the quarterfinal match between Williams and No. 2-seeded Simona Halep.

“Normally I never look at my draw,” Osaka said. “But everyone has told me about my draw here, so I kind of had no choice but to know who my next opponent is. It’s definitely going to be really fun.”

Seeded third, Osaka reached 122 mph (196 kph) on her serve against Hsieh. She hit seven aces, lost only two points on her first serve and was never broken en route to her 19th consecutive victory.

Osaka also played excellent defense, such as in the final game, when she raced forward to chase down a drop shot, flicking a backhand cross-court for a winner.

“I couldn’t afford to be lazy with my footwork,” Osaka said with a smile. “I didn’t want to play three sets.”

At 35, Hsieh was the oldest woman to make her Grand Slam quarterfinal debut in the professional era. But Osaka wasn’t fazed by Hsieh’s flat, deceptive two-handed strokes from both sides, pounding forehand winners into both corners.

Hsieh said Osaka is a threat to win the championship.

“She always can go all the way,” Hsieh said. “She just needs to play her game and stay calm. She's a great player.”

Osaka's winning streak includes a U.S. Open title in September for her third Grand Slam championship. The streak also includes her fourth-round win last week, when she saved two match points and swept the final four games to overtake Garbiñe Muguruza.

“It makes me a bit more calm, knowing that my back was severely against the wall,” Osaka said.

Osaka is 4-0 in Grand Slam quarterfinals, including a victory en route to the Australian Open title in 2019. Against Williams her record is 2-1, but they haven't played each other since 2019.

“She’s Serena,” Osaka said. “I feel really intimidated when I see her on the other side of the court.”

___

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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