The 114th-ranked qualifier from Russia became the first man in the professional era to reach the semifinals in his Grand Slam debut when he beat 18th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 on Tuesday.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” the 27-year-old Karatsev said. “Of course, it’s first time. First time in main draw. First time semis. It’s incredible.”
It has been an incredible run for a player who’d failed nine times in trying to qualify for the majors.
Dimitrov finished the match barely able to serve, and barely able to walk as he left the stadium arena.
A previous semifinalist in Australia, Dimitrov jumped out to an early lead with three service breaks in the first set. He had seven breakpoint chances in Karatsev’s first two service games in the second set, but didn’t convert any of them.
That’s when the 27-year-old Russian started to believe he could stretch his already remarkable run even further.
“It was really tough in the beginning for me, to hold my nerves,” Karatsev said. “It was tricky. I tried to play in the second set, to find a way how to play. In the third set … played better.”
Dimitrov stopped chasing shots in the third set and, at the last changeover, asked to see the trainer.
After that set, Dimitrov was visited by a trainer and then took a medical timeout for treatment on a muscle problem around his hip or back. He had a quick resurgence, but it ended just as quickly.
Dimitrov hadn’t dropped a set in his first four matches.
Karatsev was coming off his first-ever five-setter after coming back from two sets down to beat No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime. He also beat eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman in straight sets for his first win over a Top 10 player.
He’s the lowest-ranked man to reach the Australian Open semifinals since No. 114 Patrick McEnroe in 1991, and the lowest-ranked man to reach the semifinals at any Grand Slam since No. 125 Goran Ivanisevic at 2001 Wimbledon.
Karatsev will play either defending champion Novak Djokovic or Alexander Zverev next. Russians Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev are meeting in a quarterfinal on the other half of the draw on Wednesday, meaning there’ll be two Russians in the semifinals at Melbourne Park.
Asked for his thoughts on an all-Russian championship decider, Karatsev stuck with what he knows.
“I try not to think about it,” he said. Just, “going from match to match.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.