Novak Djokovic is relishing a fresh test against Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev at the Australian Open as he bids to make his ninth final and his
Novak Djokovic is relishing a fresh test against Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev at the Australian Open as he bids to make his ninth final and his third in the last three years. The injury-battling Serbian, an eight-time champion in Melbourne, has never previously faced Karatsev, the world No 114.
Karatsev has already played eight times in this tournament since January 11 and in the Grand Slam proper has only dropped two sets, beating Gianluca Mager, Egor Gerasimov, Diego Schwartzman, Felix Auger Aliassime and Grigor Dimitrov to get to this stage.
The 27-year-old had never previously got past the third round at a Slam having last done so at the French Open last year.
His opponent Djokovic is battling an ongoing abdominal injury but came from a set down to defeat German sixth seed Alexander Zverev on Monday in the quarter-finals.
The world No 1 insists he’s continuing to feel better, having also come through a fourth round clash with Milos Raonic despite his injury, and is looking forward to taking on Karatsev in the final four, who he says doesn’t have “anything to lose”.
“I have not seen him play honestly before Australian Open. I have seen him play during the tournament here, and he impressed me, impressed a lot of people,” Djokovic said ahead of Thursday’s semi-final meeting.
“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 coming back. Today as well he was just very solid against Grigor. 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.
“It’s his first semi-finals of Grand Slam, so obviously for him it’s biggest success he has had so far. As I said, he doesn’t have anything to lose, really. He’s motivated.
“I expect him to come out and really go for his shots and try his best and try to take that win. So I’m sure he’s enjoyed his Australian Open.
“On the other hand, I mean, I have had a rollercoaster of the tournament, to be honest, since third round and an injury that happened, and unpredictability of what happens next. For me, not training on the days off already two times. I’m not gonna do that tomorrow as well.
“So, I mean, that’s something that – I have not ever experienced that, to be honest, and I have never experienced this kind of injury during a Grand Slam and kind of keep going.
“But, you know, positive thing is that I actually felt the best today from the beginning of the second set until the end of the match that I have since the third round against Fritz when the injury happened.
“It means that this is going in the right direction, and fingers crossed that in two days it will stay the same.”
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Djokovic has not practiced before his wins over Raonic and Zverev and insists he will not go out on court on Wednesday ahead of facing Karatsev either.
He explained: “I want to keep going with this kind of routine, I guess, strategy of not training in the days off, because I don’t feel like I need to practice in terms of getting, you know, half an hour or an hour on the court because I need to work on something.
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“I have had enough tennis, you know, played in the last couple of months and had a lot of match play. So right now the priority is recovery.
“So the more time I have to recover and not exert too much energy and not make any quick moves, you know, the better it is for me. So that’s the reason why I’m not training tomorrow.”
Djokovic’s opponent Karatsev said earlier in the tournament after getting past young Canadian hotshot Auger Aliassime: “I’m ready for everyone.”
Karatsev has only ever played one player in the top 10 of the ATP Rankings before, being world No 9 Schwartzman in the third round of this event. He has never played any of the ‘Big Three’ of Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
After beating Dimitrov, the Russian meanwhile said: “We will see [if I can win the Australian Open]. I mean, how can I say – okay, we will see. Match by match, so yeah.”