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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Saturday April 24, 2021

Aslan Karatsev

Aslan Karatsev saved a total of 23 break points to edge Novak Djokovic in an epic in Belgrade.

Photo Source: AP

Last year at this time Aslan Karatsev was the World No.253 and you’d have to be digging pretty deep into your banks of tennis knowledge to be able to say a few sentences about the Russian's game.

Tennis Express

Today, after toppling World No.1 Novak Djokovic in Belgrade, he’s all the rage. The 27-year-old saved a total of 23 break points to take down Djokovic in a wild encounter that lasted three hours and 25 minutes, the longest ATP Tour match (non Grand Slam) of 2021 thus far.

"You never like losing at home," Djokovic told reporters. "That's for sure. It's painful, it's disappointing, I don't feel so great now, but at the same time I have to congratulate Karatsev, who played very bravely, whenever he needed to come up with his best shots, he did. Congrats to him - awesome performance from his side."

It was remarkable to watch Karatsev go toe-to-toe with Djokovic, who put forth a resilient, inspired effort on home soil, but simply could not find a way to cash in on enough opportunities to win.

Karatsev saved all ten break points he faced in the third set and emerged victorious after saving a total of 23 of 28 break points in total. Often times he'd muster a perfect first serve and his trademark drive volley, smack into the open court. If that didn't happen he'd take charge of the court and end up crushing a winner or forcing Djokovic into an error.

In short, it was uncanny, just too much clutch, especially given who he was up against.

"Some flashes of good quality tennis, I was fighting," Djokovic said "That's a positive. I was fighting all the way."

“I wasn’t thinking, I was just trying to play, focusing on my game,” Karatsev said on court after the match. “There was no time to think.”

A crazy good season continues

2021 has been a dream for the rising Russian. Karatsev became the first ATP player in history to reach the semifinals on his Grand Slam main draw debut in February at the Australian Open, and it was Djokovic who ended his run in Melbourne, taking him out, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

Karatsev, in that wonderful fortnight in Australia, also became the first ATP qualifier to reach the semis of a Grand Slam since 2000 and the lowest-ranked Grand Slam semifinalist (at 114) since Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon.

The fun hasn’t stopped there. The Russian took out Jannik Sinner in Dubai, then ended Andrey Rublev’s 23-match winning streak at the ATP 500 level in the next round to reach the final. Currently ranked 28 in the world, he will rise to 26 in the ATP rankings if he can claim the title tomorrow, where he’ll face either Taro Daniel or Matteo Berrettini.

“No. 1 in the world, you have to put everything in that match, that’s what I did,” Karatsev said. “It’s like playing against a wall, you have to be 100 percent, 150 percent on the court to beat this guy, so I managed to do it.”

So close, for Djokovic

Djokovic saved six of 16 break points and rallied from 0-40 down to hold for 3-2 in the final set. He then had five break points to take a 4-2 lead in the final set but Karatsev passed the test and held.

In the seventh game Karatsev broke to 15 to lead 4-3.

"As I said it's disappointing finishing the week like this at home," Djokovoic said. "I'll say it again I lost to a better player who was just more courageous, I think he went for his shots at the right time and it worked for him."

It was a nail biter the whole way. Djokovic saved a match point to hold for 4-5 and then had two more break points to level at 5-all, but Karatsev saved them both and closed out his epic victory.


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