Novak Djokovic will take on the unheralded qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the Australian Open semifinals.
As I’m sure most are aware, Djokovic suffered an abdominal muscle injury (to his obliques, specifically) in his third round match against Taylor Fritz. It looked really bad at the time and it seemed like Nole will either withdraw or lose the match, but he toughed it out in five sets. With the extent of his injury unknown, the betting world was on its toes in Nole’s next two matches. Nole wasn’t at his best in the 4th round against Raonic, but still won quite easily in four sets. In the quarters against Zverev, he seemed much less bothered by the injury, and won another four setter.
Aslan Karatsev shocked the world here in Melbourne by reaching the semifinals as a qualifier. The big hitting Russian hadn’t even play a match on the main draw at a Grand Slam before last week, but here he is, set to take on the mighty Djokovic for a place in the final. Here in Melbourne (excluding qualies) he defeated Mager, Gerasimov and Schwartzman in straight sets, then got past Auger Aliassime (coming back from 0-2 down) and Dimitrov (coming back from 0-1 down).
This will be the first meeting between the two. You have to feel that Karatsev’s power game will fall right into Djokovic’s lap, as long as the Serbian is healthy.
I think Djokovic answered all the questions about his physical state. He managed his injury well against Raonic, it didn’t look to bother him that much, and in the quarters against Zverev there were barely any signs of distress. Nole hasn’t quite been at 100%, but not that far off either. With an extra two days of rest, and with him always raising his level in the final stages of Grand Slams, you can only expect him to be as sharp as ever today. He should be fine.
The 27 year old Karatsev has been blowing opponents off the court with his power game, but meeting Djokovic will be a totally different challenge. Karatsev already showed vulnerability against Auger Aliassime and particularly against Dimitrov – the Bulgarian was in full control until an injury started bothering him and he just wasn’t himself anymore, allowing Karatsev to run away with a match.
Djokovic’s experience, his stellar movement and incredible defense should be way too much for Karatsev to handle here. The winners he has been registering so far will not be winners against Nole – he’ll have to hit another shot, and another. The Russian admitted he was nervous against Dimitrov, those nerves are likely to get worse here, which is not good for his risky style of play.
My tip will be Djokovic to win in straight sets. I generally don’t like this bet because the margin of error is slim, but can’t see Karatsev besting Novak for an entire set here. I’m also counting on Nole’s serve – it has been excellent so far and should make it hard for Karatsev to get ahead even if he has some moments in which all his shots are going in.
Hopefully Djokovic will be ok phisically, but there’s no reason to expect otherwise based on what we have seen in his last two matches. Prediction: Novak Djokovic – Aslan Karatsev 6-2 7-5 6-1.