Aslan Karatsev (l.) pulled out a comeback Sunday after finding himself down two sets against Felix Auger-Aliassime (r.).Photo: Getty ImagesAs we’ve previously stated, the Australian Open has a surreal quality, at least on these shores, where an already-niche sport takes place in the dark for only the truly dedicated/bewildered. It’s even more so this edition, as on Friday the live spectators were shooed out of the tournament altogether, thanks to the state of Victoria’s latest COVID lockdown (and it merely took a handful of cases on the outskirts of town for the government to put those in. Imagine having that kind of leadership, responsibility, and care for your neighbor. Maybe when you already live in Australia, amongst all the things that can kill you instantly, you’re more aware of avoiding the extraneous dangers). Anyway, that led to the bizarre sight of the Taylor Fritz-Novak Djokovic match having to be held up for 10 minutes while the crowd left, right at the time the stadium would normally be filling up to watch a possible massive upset. It was a cavernous echo that responded to Djokovic’s roar as he pulled out the 5th set against Fritz, instead of a rapturous roar (or begrudging acceptance and a guarded appreciation rather than a soaking-in of Djokovic’s greatness, as it tends to be with him and crowds). But neither Djokovic nearly eating it early, nor home hero Nick Kyrgrios spitting away a two-set lead to Dominic Thiem on the same night is the biggest story on the men’s side of the draw (and that victory left Thiem a fine paste, as he was bulldozed by Gregor Dimitrov in his next match in straight sets last night). Aslan Karatsev had never played in a Grand Slam before this one. He’s 27, which is generally when a player has established his career arc, for better or for worse. He’s ranked 114th in the world, though that’s a result mostly of tearing it up on the Challenger Tour last year, the tier below the ATP. He was ranked 300 before that. And now he has bulldozed his way to the quarterfinals where he’ll meet Dimitrov. Karatsev hadn’t dropped a set in his first three matches, and had only lost 20 games in his three wins. He rolled into the fourth-round having completely clubbed Diego Schwartzman, (ranked 8th) in straight sets in the third. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about watching Karatsev pull off an actual, tennis-version of Hoosiers, is that he plays like someone who has nothing to lose. Because he doesn’t. It’s the way you’ve always wanted to walk into a Vegas casino with a bankroll, until you remember your mortgage or kids’ college fund or how friendly your spouse seems to be with the neighbor. A complete, “Fuck it, it’s free cake” attitude toward life. Karatsev has been simply bombing it from the baseline, going for every shot that’s there and some that aren’t. It’s what American hope Frances Tiafoe has been attempting for years, but without the restrictor plates that would keep him within limits long enough to make serious noise. Karatsev thunders forehands and backhands to within inches of the baseline, because if you have his story, and you don’t know how much longer this will last, you’re not going to waste time with “feeling your way into a match” or “strategy” or “ logic.” It’s like taco night at college for Karatsev. We’ll worry about the gastrointestinal issues when we get to them. Schwartzman’s game is based on being a backboard, and he was basically reduced to a spectator to Karatsev’s laser show. G/O Media may get a commissionKaratsev’s latest rolling of sevens came against Felix Auger-Aliassime, the Canadian who has promised so much for a couple seasons now and yet hasn’t quite broken down all the firewalls on his game that would unlock so much. Karatsev was down two sets, and it appeared his pressing his engine to 7000 RPM for the length of the tournament had overcooked it. He piled up 26 unforced errors in the first two sets to just seven winners, while Auger-Aliassime played very cleanly and simply and let Karatsev’s lines blow. But Karatsev found the rhythm over the next three sets, piling up 30 winners in the final three sets, including 22 in the final two, as F.A.A.’s game broke down. Karatsev is the first qualifier to get to the quarters in Melbourne in 32 years. He’s the first qualifier to get to any Slam in 10. He’s the first player to make the quarters of his first Slam in 25 years. It’s a complete joyride, and long may it continue. Elsewhere, Daniil Medvedev continued his tortured genius approach to life with a five-set win on Friday that saw him berate his own coach for so long and so often, and in three different languages just for variety’s sake, the dude just got up and left before Medvedev pulled himself out of his ennui to blitz Filip Krajinovic in the 5th set 6-0, which saved Medvedev from blowing his own two-set lead. The constant harassing of a coach not doing much more than sitting there in an empty arena makes for even more awkward viewing, but Medvedev’s rise to the top of the game has been a constant exhibition of absurdism, both in his game — he can vary wildly in style, tactics, and performance and that’s from game to game — and personality. It’s been refreshing to have this kind of story now, because it still looks like the chalk is going to be left at the end. Djokovic complained of a foot injury against Fritz, and even wondered if he could make his next match, which he did and saw off without much fuss, sending Milos Raonic home in four sets. Rafael Nadal hasn’t dropped a set yet, and now won’t have to worry about strange women expressing their views in clear fashion toward him with no crowds being allowed. .
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The bitter feud between Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios is showing no signs of abating, with Kyrgios recently taking another jibe at Djokovic. This time, Kyrgios has openly admitted to disliking Djokovic, while also seemingly mocking the Serb’s trademark celebration.Novak Djokovic had earlier given his thoughts on Nick Kyrgios – a long-standing critic of his – by saying that he doesn’t hold the Australian in high regard off the pitch. The Serb did, however, laud Kyrgios for his tennis skills.Not one to let his nemesis have the last word, Nick Kyrgios has hit back at the World No. 1 with his recent actions and comments. Ahead of his doubles match with Thanasi Kokkinakis (against Koolhof / Kubot) on Sunday, Kyrgios imitated the Serb’s famous ‘heart-throwing’ celebration.Interestingly enough, the gesture was directed to empty stands, as fans have now been banned from attending the 2021 Australian Open.Kyrgios (and Kokkinakis) lost the match, and in the post-match press conference Kyrgios explained the reason behind his act. Tongue firmly in cheek, the 25-year-old stated that he was trying to ‘spread the good word’.“Just feeling the love, just trying to spread the good word of the celebration,” Kyrgios said. “Everyone loves that celebration. It’s well-liked.”The Australian also asserted that his actions didn’t bear any ill will towards Novak Djokovic. He then went on to reveal that he is well-aware of Djokovic’s animosity towards himself, before adding that he harbors similar feelings towards the Serb.“It’s nothing malicious, we just like to have some fun,” Kyrgios said. “Look, looking around there’s literally just blue, and we’re like, wow, this is tough. But we’re just trying to have some fun. Novak, I’m sure, doesn’t like me and we both have respect for each other, but I don’t like him at all, so it’s fun.”Nick Kyrgios even labeled his antics as ‘banter’, and opined that his colleagues tend to have a very solemn outlook whereas he himself is driven by the lighter side of things.
“I know tennis players are very serious, so I think that’s why we’ve kind of got a bit of energy about us,” explained the Australian. “We just banter anyway. When we tweet or when we just do stuff, it’s for fun, you know, like you can’t take it all too seriously.”Nick Kyrgios mocks Novak Djokovic’s injury claims Novak Djokovic after his win over Taylor FritzNovak Djokovic seemingly injured himself during his third-round match against Taylor Fritz. The Serb struggled to move after the second set, and saw his two-set to love lead fade away quickly.Djokovic fought through the pain and ousted Fritz in five sets, but skipped his training session the next day to undergo scans. Djokovic also expressed his fears of suffering a muscle tear in his abdomen, which many – including Nick Kyrgios – are struggling to believe.Commenting on Taylor Fritz’s Instagram post, Nick Kyrgios took a jibe at Novak Djokovic’s condition, indirectly questioning the severity of the Serb’s injury.
“Imma take a medical real quick Fritzy, I’ll be back in 2 hours,” Kyrgios commented.
Published 14 Feb 2021, 18:12 IST