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Nadal’s Grand Slam record bid blown away by Tsitsipas Qualifier Karatsev’s dream run faces Djokovic barrier

MELBOURNE (Reuters): Rafa Nadal’s bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title came crashing to a halt at the Australian Open on Wednesday as Stefanos Tsitsipas rose up to topple the Spaniard 3-6 2-6 7-6(4) 6-4 7-5 and reach the semi-finals.

World number two Nadal had not lost a set coming into the evening clash at Rod Laver Arena and was locked on target for the last four at Melbourne Park after roaring to a two-set lead over the listless Greek.

The match turned on its head when Nadal wavered in a messy third set tiebreak, and a rejuvenated Tsitsipas rallied brilliantly to take the match into a decider. Capturing Nadal’s serve at 5-5 in the fifth, Tsitsipas saw two match points slip through his fingers on serve but he kept his head and fired a scintillating backhand winner down the line on the third to claim one of his finest career victories.“Of course (I’m) sad. I lost a match in quarter-finals of an event that means a lot to me,” Nadal told reporters.

“I tried my best in every single moment … I think I stayed positive all the time during the match, fighting, and it was not enough. Sometimes it’s enough, today was not enough.”Fifth seed Tsitsipas booked his second Australian Open semi-final and will meet Russian juggernaut Daniil Medvedev for a place in the decider.
“I fly like a little bird and everything was working for me,” the shaggy-haired 22-year-old said.“I have no words to describe what just happened on court. My tennis speaks out for itself. It’s an unbelievable feeling to be able to fight on such level, just to be able to leave my all out on court.
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic is one of the best-known sportsmen in the world but his semi-final on Thursday will be against a player he confessed he was unaware of until this year’s Australian Open.

The top-ranked men’s player would not be the only one in the tennis circuit who would not have previously heard of the 114th-ranked Russian Aslan Karatsev, 27, before 2021.

But in the past two weeks on Melbourne Park’s blue hardcourts, the qualifier has ensured he has the firm attention of the tennis world by becoming the first man in the open era to reach the last four in his maiden Grand Slam. A victory on Thursday at the Rod Laver Arena will make Karatsev the first qualifier to reach a major final in the Open Era, and the lowest-ranked man to reach a Grand Slam final since No. 125 Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001.

“It’s unbelievable, I’m so happy for Aslan, he’s made history. I don’t know what he did in the pandemic, probably just worked hard I guess,” Daniil Medvedev said on Wednesday after reaching the semi-finals.Before qualifying for his maiden Grand Slam in his 10th attempt last month, Karatsev found consistency on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2020 where he lost just two out of his last 20 matches since tennis’ restart after the pandemic.

Karatsev, who was forced on the sidelines for six months in 2017 due to a knee injury, was also a member of the Russian team that won the ATP Cup event where Medvedev called him the “secret weapon” in doubles.Two-time Grand Slam winner Yevgeny Kafelnikov from Russia said Karatsev’s success was a “happy surprise”.

“He’s going to play a lot of tournaments now without any pressure for the remainder of the 2021 season in terms of getting into the main draws and a big pay cheque will also be a huge boost for him,” Kafelnikov told the ATP website.

Osaka the next hurdle in Serena’s quest for 24th Slam: Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka have long moved on from their tempestuous 2018 U.S. Open title match but that will do nothing to dampen the suspense ahead of their blockbuster Australian Open semi-final on Thursday. Williams was handed three code violations, the last of which resulted in a game penalty, in a straight sets defeat to Osaka, who was booed throughout the final game and trophy ceremony by an angry Flushing Meadows crowd.

The American, who later wrote an apology letter to Osaka, is bidding for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title and said she was looking forward to facing the Japanese third seed again.

“Well, I think we both have had closure, and we have reached out to each other. I have definitely reached out,” the 39-year-old said.
“I think she’s a great competitor and a cool cat.”

World number three Osaka has won three Grand Slams and last year surpassed her childhood idol Williams as the world’s highest paid female athlete, according to Forbes.

The 23-year-old has won two of her three previous Tour encounters with Williams, although the American triumphed the last time they met in a WTA event in Toronto in 2019.

When asked if she would be watching film of Williams to prepare herself for the match, Osaka said she never stops watching her.

“For me, I grew up watching Serena… It’s just more of a habit than anything,” she added. “But I feel like everyone in the tournament watches her.”

In the other semi-final, surprise package Karolina Muchova will take on U.S. Open semi-finalist Jennifer Brady, with both players looking to earn a spot in their maiden major final.

“I think I will have to bring my A-game to play with (Brady) because she is playing amazing matches,” said Muchova, who has won all eight of her eight matches this season. “I will try to play my best.”