Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev’s remarkable run at the Australian Open came to an end in the semifinal as he was beaten by Serbian world number one Novak Djokovic in straight sets in Melbourne.
The unseeded Karatsev had defied the odds to become the first man in the Open Era to reach the last four on his debut appearance at a Grand Slam, but fell short against Djokovic despite putting up a fight against the eight-time champion.
Djokovic ran out the winner 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena and will now face either Russia’s Daniil Medvedev or Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final as the Serb chases an 18th Grand Slam title.
Karatsev, 27, had been the story of the tournament in Melbourne, making light of his lowly ranking of world number 114 to come through qualifying and then claim scalps including eighth seed Diego Schwartzman on his way to setting up an unlikely semifinal meeting with Djokovic.
With fans back in the stands in Melbourne after a five-day Covid-19 lockdown was lifted, many hoped that Karatsev could continue his heroics and perhaps pull off one of the biggest shocks in tennis history.
The Russian held his own in the opening exchanges as the first seven games went with serve, before Djokovic exerted control to break in game eight and then served out the set.
The Serb looked to be sailing in the second set as he secured a double-break of serve, although Karatsev showed spirit by breaking the world number one for the first time in the match to give him renewed hope.
The Russian then earned himself two break points on the Djokovic serve, only to see them go begging as the Serb finally took the set.
An eventful third set saw Djokovic break early to open up a 2-0 lead, only for Karatsev to break back as he scrapped to stay in the match.
But Djokovic found a response of his own to break his rival twice more, showing an urgency to finish off the gutsy underdog as he served out the set 6-2, and with it booking a spot in yet another final Down Under.
Despite his defeat, the Vladikavkaz-born Karatsev has enjoyed a memorable time in Melbourne and is now set to break into the world’s top 50 for the first time in his career.
He will also leave Australia with a tidy sum of $US662,000 in prize money – more than his total career winnings of around $US618,000 before he arrived at this year’s tournament.