Russian third seed Aslan Karatsev clinched the biggest win of his career when he defeated world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in a three-hour, 25-minute slugfest to reach the Serbia Open final.
The 27-year-old Karatsev will take on Italy’s Matteo Berrettini who defeated American-born Japanese Taro Daniel 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-0 in the other semi-final.
Taking on the top seed at his namesake Novak Tennis Centre in Belgrade, Karatsev stayed calm in the decisive moments to save 23 of the 28 break points he faced against Djokovic on Saturday.
The Russian stuck to his aggressive strategy to survive a second-set comeback and record a memorable win, which turned out to be the longest ATP Tour match of the year against Djokovic.
“It was a long, tough match against a tough opponent,” Karatsev said on the ATP Tour website. “You have to put in like 200 per cent to beat this guy; it’s like playing against a wall. And he also made some good shots. He doesn’t give you any free points. He always makes you play, and you have to be always there because once you miss a couple of shots, he just takes it very quickly. That’s how I lost the second set.”
Karatsev improved to 1-1 in his ATP head-to-head against Djokovic, avenging his straight-sets defeat in the 2021 Australian Open semi-finals. The Russian will face second seed Matteo Berrettini for a shot at winning his second tour-level trophy.
“I stepped on the court to win. I had belief in myself, and I said to myself that I would play every ball no matter what,” said Karatsev. “I tried to keep this strategy that we spoke about with the coach. You have to fight for every ball; that was the key to success.”
Djokovic powered his way to a 2-0 lead in the first two sets against the reigning Dubai champion Karatsev, who burst onto the scene at the Australian Open with a breakthrough semi-final from the qualifiers. But in both sets, Karatsev didn’t allow Djokovic to settle into the lead, breaking back quickly and pressing the Serbian from the baseline with punishing rallies.
After Karatsev claimed the opening set, he looked to be closing in on a straight-sets win as he took a 4-2 lead in the second. But the world No. 1 responded emphatically, reeling off the next four games in a row. He was nearly untouchable in the final game, blasting passing shots off both wings to battle back from 15/40 and claim the break.
But in a 73-minute deciding set that came down the wire, it was Djokovic who blinked first. Karatsev took time away from his opponent by going to the net regularly and closing out points with smart forehand drive volleys. He also honed in on Djokovic’s second serve, winning 52 per cent of the points (23/44) behind the Serbian’s second delivery. Karatsev earned the lone break at 4-3, denying Djokovic 10 break points in the final set en route to the final.
“This is definitely the biggest win of my career, it’s the World No. 1,” said Karatsev.
With his fifth tour-level clay-court victory, Karatsev snapped Djokovic’s 11-match winning streak on home soil (30-4 overall) dating back to Davis Cup in 2011. Djokovic, who added a record-extending ninth Australian Open trophy to his haul earlier this season, was looking for his 83rd ATP Tour title.