Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks ahead to the latest in tennis. Today, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews day 9 of the 2021 Australian Open.
Who exactly is Aslan Karatsev?
Before he hijacked this year’s Australian Open on the men’s side, before he enjoyed the hottest of hot streaks in reaching the quarterfinals after dismantling Felix Auger-Aliassime, the 27-year-old was a journeyman and unknown in the tennis world.
That’s not an easy feat, not when we live in an interconnected world where every- and anyone’s who’s at all close to becoming a someone is found by someone else.
But all these years and no one had found Karatsev because Karatsev wasn’t anyone worth knowing. Before he suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for six months in 2017, he had played all of eight tour-level matches, so the Russian was essentially a tennis nobody. After his knee injury, Karatsev spent the following three years doing anything but playing ATP matches.
Coming out of nowhere
Really, we can thank the pandemic (can we?) for Karatsev’s ascent as he started to play—and win—matches once tennis came back after last year’s long layoff. Since August 2020, he’s won all but six of the matches he’s played, including an 18-2 record at the Challenger level. Karatsev had been on such a tear that he made the Russian team at this year’s ATP Cup, with countryman Daniil Medvedev calling him the team’s “secret weapon.”
Not bad for someone who entered the Australian Open qualifying draw ranked No. 114. He had been playing well and, thankfully, it translated into concrete results for the first Grand Slam of the new season: for the first time in 10 tries, Karatsev qualified for the main draw of a major.
He’s spent his time since playing a style that’s an okay approximation of Marat Safin’s high-wire act, one predicated on risk-taking and huge mojo. You can’t win big if you don’t risk big, that kind of thing.
May Karatsev never, ever stop losing.
The last part of this column is for us to highlight a few matches but instead we’ll give you a quick breakdown and preview on each quarterfinal matchup. As always, head over here to see the rest of the day 9 schedule.
Rod Laver Arena: Su-Wei Hsieh vs Naomi Osaka  (First match of the day)
It must be absolutely infuriating to play Su-Wei Hsieh, and we mean that in the nicest way possible. The Taiwanese is most of all concerned with the end result of every action she takes on a tennis court, rather than the technique or whatnot. It just so happens that the end results in Melbourne have been ruthless. Hsieh has frustrated every opponent she’s played over the first week. Though we have seen crazier things happen, overcoming Naomi Osaka is too much; the Japanese wins in straight sets.
Rod Laver Arena: Aslan Karatsev [Q] vs Grigor Dimitrov  (Not before 3pm AEDT)
Don’t let the opening of this text make you believe that what Grigor Dimitrov has accomplished over the first week isn’t significant in its own right. Because it is. It’s just that, you know, it’s not quite as impressive as what Karatsev has done? Let’s keep the good times rolling, baby. Karatsev wins in five sets.
Rod Laver Arena: Serena Williams  vs Simona Halep  (Not before 7pm AEDT)
This matchup really deserves better than a quarterfinal, but here we are. If Serena Williams plays as well as she did in her previous match against Aryna Sabalenka, then she’ll be tough to beat. Still, Simona Halep shouldn’t be counted out; let’s give Williams the edge in three sets.
Rod Laver Arena: Alexander Zverev  vs Novak Djokovic  (Second match of the evening)
You get the feeling that so long as he’s able to walk, Novak Djokovic will walk right to Rod Laver Arena and compete in the hopes of winning a 9th Australian Open title. That’s essentially what he’s accomplished over his previous two wins against Taylor Fritz and Milos Raonic. He’s far from 100% but it should be enough to beat Alexander Zverev: Djokovic takes the win in four sets.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG