After taking it to Novak Djokovic in every point of a three-hour, 25-minute epic at the Serbia Open on Saturday, Aslan Karatsev just couldn’t get across the finish line Sunday to lift the trophy.
Second seed Matteo Berrettini routed Karatsev in the opening set at the Novak Tennis Center, but he needed his very best to hold on for a 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(0) victory at the ATP 250 event against the Russian.
With his second ATP Tour final appearance in Belgrade, Karatsev added another fascinating chapter to one of the breakout stories of the year. The 27-year-old Russian turned heads at the start of the season with a run from the Australian Open qualifying to his first Grand Slam semi-final (l. Djokovic). He continued to impress by winning his maiden tour-level title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships a few weeks later.
Karatsev was ranked World No. 253 in the FedEx ATP Rankings at this time last year, and now eyes a spot inside the Top 20 (currently No.27). But Karatsev is adamant that his rapid rise is not overnight success. Rather, it’s the result of years of hard work with his coach and on the ATP Challenger Tour.
“It’s not just happening right now, there is [a lot of] work that was done before [to get here],” Karatsev said. “I had some injuries before and some troubles, and now we’re doing a good job with my coach. It’s been two and a half years and it’s just paying off in 2021.
“It’s not like it’s coming all of a sudden from nowhere. It’s coming from the hard work every day, and it’s a long process. You have to be there every day and work hard.”
Despite the bittersweet ending, Karatsev is pulling a lot of confidence from his memorable run in Belgrade. In his opening match, the third seed had to save match point against an inspired Aljaz Bedene to win 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5). It wouldn’t get any easier, taking down Gianluca Mager before booking an Australian Open semi-final rematch with Djokovic.
“Here, I’ve been playing a really good level in all my matches,” Karatsev said. “From the beginning it was a three-set match, and from match to match that gave me more and more confidence. But it’s also a process, you have to work and be in practice every day and improve your game, mentally and physically. It’s not like it’s all arriving right now and that’s it.”
Though Karatsev admitted to feeling the effects of his pyrrhic semi-final victory on Sunday, he refused to take any credit away from his opponent. The Russian struggled to read Berrettini’s serve, and found himself regularly outhit from the baseline.
“I think it could be from the match yesterday, I wasn’t there in every point,” Karatsev said in his post-match press conference. “But all credit to him, he played fantastic in the end and served really well. I couldn’t really serve or go for the big shots, going around the forehand.
“At the tie-break, he was serving unbelievable. I wasn’t there. There were some points where I wasn’t there, and he did well in the tie-break as well, pushing me to the limit.”
Karatsev is next scheduled to compete at the BMW Open in Munich, the Mutua Madrid Open and Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome ahead of Roland Garros.