World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is edging closer to an Australian Open title defence after the 33-year-old defeated Alexander Zverev in his quarter-final clash on Tuesday. The Serb came from behind to beat his sixth-seed opponent 6-7 (6) 6-2 6-4 7-6 (6) and set up a semi-final clash with Aslan Karatsev.
Djokovic is the heavy favourite to overcome the challenge posed by the Russian qualifier, despite having struggled with a troublesome muscle injury since Friday’s third round win over Taylor Fritz.
Karatsev, ranked as the world number 114 by the ATP, has been the surprise package of the tournament after storming into the last four against all odds.
The 27-year-old has dropped just three sets since the opening round, with one of those coming in his quarter-final win over an injured Grigor Dimitrov on Monday morning.
It seems as if Karatsev’s remarkable run could be halted by Djokovic on Thursday, but the spirited underdog has already made a daring claim ahead of their semi-final showdown.
When quizzed on the prospect of facing a big-name opponent after beating Felix Auger Aliassime on Friday, Karatsev replied: “I’m ready for everyone.”
If the Russian can claim an unlikely victory against 17-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic, it would represent a huge upset and potentially spark a wild rise up the professional ladder for Karatsev.
He added that he was pleased at how the competition was progressing for him, with this year’s Australian Open in Melbourne his first appearance at a major tournament.
“I was playing really well in qualifying,” Karatsev continued. “And just playing [well] in every match [since], every single match, so I’m very happy.”
Fellow semi-finalist Djokovic cut a frustrated figure during his win over Zverev on Tuesday, smashing his racquet into the ground after failing to take a break point in the fifth game of the third set.
The decorated champion kept his head to claim a deserved victory, but stressed after the match that he was forced to dig deep in order to progress to the last four.
“Down to the very last shot it was anybody’s match,” said Djokovic after the match at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena.
“A lot of nerves out there, a lot of pressure. Emotionally I feel a little bit drained. It was a great battle. We pushed each other to the limit.”
Karatsev may be hoping that Djokovic’s injury troubles will stick around until after Thursday’s match has finished, but the latter has hinted that he could be nearing a return to his best after a surprisingly comfortable day on court against Zverev.
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“The positive thing is that I actually felt the best today, from the beginning of the second set until the end of the match, that I have since the third round against Fritz when the injury happened,” Djokovic added.
“It means that this is going in the right direction, and fingers crossed that in two days it will stay the same.”
Djokovic can go into the last four with the confidence of knowing that he has never lost in the Australian Open after reaching the semi-finals.
The winner of Thursday’s meeting will face one of Rafael Nadal, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev or Andrey Rublev in the final on Sunday morning.