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Ricky’s Preview and Pick for Djokovic vs. Karatsev in the Australian Open Semifinals

Novak Djokovic is two wins from a record-extending ninth Australian Open championship. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

By Ricky Dimon

It will be the No. 1 player in the world against the No. 114 player in the world in a Grand Slam semifinal when Novak Djokovic and…wait for it…Aslan Karatsev collide at the Australian Open on Thursday night.

Karatsev’s run has come completely out of nowhere. In fact, the 27-year-old had never competed in a single major main draw prior to this fortnight. Ranked well outside the top 100, Karatsev had to quality last month in Doha–where he did so successfully after going three sets with Brandon Nakashima in the very first round.

Karatsev has only gotten better and better since arriving in Melbourne. Perhaps inspired by having a front-row seat to see Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev lead Russia to the ATP Cup title two weeks ago, the no name-turned-household name is playing by far the best tennis of his career. He did not drop a single set while beating Gianluca Mager, Egor Gerasimov (6-0, 6-1, 6-0), and Diego Schwartzman before coming back from two sets down to upset Felix Auger-Aliassime. Karatsev then ousted a hobbled Grigor Dimitrov 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.

“It’s amazing that I passed to semifinal from qualification,” he said. “I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and not thinking about that too much.”

Karatsev probably shouldn’t think about the enormity of Thursday’s moment, especially considering that it’s Djokovic on the other side of the net. After all, on paper this is one of the biggest mismatches in slam semifinal history. In addition to being No. 1 in the world, Djokovic is a 17-time Grand Slam champion–including eight at the Aussie Open. The Serb has not been 100 percent at this event due to an abdominal injury, but he has nonetheless passed every test. Djokovic did not look hampered during four-set wins over Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev in the fourth round and quarters, respectively.

Karatsev started slow against both Auger-Aliassime and Dimitrov, who for various reasons let him off the hook. Djokovic won’t be so kind. Even if the top seed is not 100 percent (which is unlikely), this should be one-way traffic from start to finish.

Pick: Djokovic in 3

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.