Aslan Karatsev, the one tennis didn’t expect

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On February 7, Aslan Karatsev won the second edition of the ATP Cup with Russia. But no one really paid attention to him, the anonymous 114th player in the world in a squad that included two top 10 members (Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev). During press conferences, he sat in his corner listening to his comrades answer questions. A week later, everything has changed. At the end of the first week of the Australian Open, the questions are for him.

Sunday, Aslan Karatsev obtained his qualification for the quarterfinals of the tournament by taking the best of the Canadian nugget Félix-Augier Aliassime (ATP 19) in five sets (3-6 1-6 6-3 6-3 6-4 ). This is not the first of his exploits in Melbourne: he had just released, without losing a single set, three players better classified than him, including the Argentinian Diego Schwartzmann, ninth player in the world, in the previous round.

Grown up from the crisis

It is an understatement to say that this course is causing a sensation. The native of Vladikavkaz, 20 kilometers from the Georgian border, is far from being a promising young first. He is 27 years old, and since his first steps on the professional circuit in 2013, he has never really emerged from the shadows. There was indeed, in 2015, a title at a Challenger tournament in Kazan (Russia) and a victory against the former “top 10” Mikhail Youzhny then, in the following years, some esteem successes against the cadors in the making. (Karen Khachanov, Daniil Medvedev, Felix Auger-Aliassime). But his daily life remained that of a rank-and-file. Places 268 to 764 in the ATP ranking. The Future and Challenger tournaments. Those of the Grand Slam, he had only touched on them during their qualifying phases.

And then the year 2020 arrived, and with it the pandemic and unprecedented shocks for the world of sport. In tennis, where athletes are self-entrepreneurs living on their results and their ability to fend for themselves, second-tier professionals have suffered greatly. Economically. Psychologically. But Aslan Karatsev, he found a way to come out of this hectic period: he gained 180 places in the ATP rankings, going from 292nd to 112th place between January 1 and December 31.

Trivial speech, spectacular progression

“With my coach, we worked very hard,” said the man soberly in September. He had just reached the final of three consecutive Challenger tournaments, losing the first to a certain Stan Wawrinka, then winning the next two. “The recipe?” Asked him then Tennis tour. “I focus on my games. I have become more consistent. I try not to have too many ups and downs in my performances. I take match after match. “

A speech as banal as the progression, since continued in Australia, is spectacular. It’s quite simple: Aslan Karatsev is the first player from qualifying to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament since the German Alex Radulescu at Wimbledon in 1996. “You tell me that,” he said. he soberly reacted on Sunday after his fourth victory in Melbourne. It’s a good feeling of course. But me, I concentrate on my meetings. ”

The next will arrive on Tuesday, against a new size: Grigor Dimitrov (ATP 21), striker of a very pale Dominic Thiem (ATP 3) this Sunday. The Bulgarian will be dealing with an opponent who defines himself as “aggressive”, applied to send “big serves” and to conclude the points “as quickly as possible”. But do not worry: he will have dated as he should. Within a week, everyone got to know Aslan Karatsev much better than in the first eight years of his career.