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Tennis • Serbia • Karatsev Takes Down Djokovic in Belgrade Marathon, Berrettini Ends Taro Daniel’s Run

Aslan Karatsev of Russia (R) shakes hands with Novak Djokovic of Serbia after their semi final match at the Serbia Open tennis tournament in Belgrade, Serbia, 24 April 2021. EPA-EFE/ANDREJ CUKIC

By Ricky Dimon

The incredible breakthrough season for Aslan Karatsev continues.

Building on an improbable semifinal run at the Australian Open followed by a title in Dubai, Karatsev picked up the biggest win of his career–rankings wise–with a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the Serbia Open semis on Saturday evening. At three hours and 25 minutes, it is the longest ATP Tour match of 2021.

After the first two sets were split with a combined 10 service breaks, the third was decided by just a single break. It came with Djokovic toeing the line at 3-4, when Karatsev continued to dictate play by punishing shots left and right from the back of the court to run the top seed ragged. The 28th-ranked Russian made that lone scalp of Djokovic’s serve stand up by fighting off 10 of 10 break points in the decider.

In the overall match, Karatsev saved 23 of 28 break points.

“It was a long, tough match (against a) tough opponent,” Karatsev commented. “You have to put (in) like 200 percent to beat this guy,=; it’s like playing against a wall. 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.

“I stepped on the court to win. I was believing (in myself), and I said to myself that I would play every ball no matter what. I tried to keep this strategy that [my coach and I] spoke about. You have to fight for every ball; that was the key to success.

“This is definitely [the biggest win of my career]; it’s the World No. 1.”

Next up for Karatsev in Sunday’s final is second seed Matteo Berrettini, a 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-0 winner over Taro Daniel.

Taro Daniel of Japan in action against Matteo Berrettini of Italy during their semi final match of the Serbia Open tennis tournament in Belgrade, Serbia, 24 April 2021. EPA-EFE/ANDREJ CUKIC

After getting a lucky loser spot in the main draw, Taro Daniel defeated Joao Sousa, John Millman, and Federico Delbonis to reach the semifinals. The world No. 126 from Japan mounted an impressive comeback in the second set on Saturday, breaking Berrettini at 4-5–having previously not broken serve the entire night. Daniel went on to steal the middle frame of play in a tiebreaker, but the Italian recovered to run away with the third.

This is Karatsev’s second-ever ATP title match, while Berrettini is 3-1 lifetime in ATP finals.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.