Russian-Israeli in Australian Open semis

Aslan Karatsev spent much of his youth in the Jewish state; Israel Tennis Association reportedly sought to have him play for Israel but he’d already signed up for Russia.

Aslan Karatsev at Melbourne Park. Photo: Tennis Australia/Morgan Hancock
Aslan Karatsev at Melbourne Park. Photo: Tennis Australia/Morgan Hancock

Russian-Israeli tennis player Aslan Karatsev has become the first player in Australian Open history to reach the semi-finals of the tournament on their Grand Slam debut.

Karatsev was a virtual unknown before the Melbourne tournament started, but he has defeated several giants.

On Tuesday evening, he upset injury-hampered 18th seed Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in four sets: 2-6 6-4 6-1 6-2. He takes on world number one Novak Djokovic on Thursday.

On Sunday he stunned 20th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime by battling back from two sets down to upset the Canadian 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 at the Margaret Court Arena. On Friday, he blitzed eighth seed Diego Schwartzman in round three.

#BREAKING Russian-Israeli tennis player Aslan Karatsev, who is playing in his debut Grand Slam tournament, is through to…

Posted by The Australian Jewish News on Monday, February 15, 2021

The 27-year-old Karatsev plays for Russia but grew up and trained in Israel and speaks fluent Hebrew. However, he left the country at age 16, and recent days have seen the leaders of the Israel Tennis Association shaking their heads at their failure to identify his talent while he was here.

He was born in Vladikavkaz but his family moved to Israel when he was still a young boy, where he became an enthusiastic tennis player, according to the Hebrew-language One sports website. It was during this period that he first met, and played against, Amir Weintraub, who would go on to become a top Israeli professional tennis player.

Though he showed obvious potential, financial hardships kept Karatsev from advancing his natural talent and he eventually returned to Russia with his father. His mother and sister remained in Israel.

Since then Karatsev continued to train by himself, traveling to competitions around Europe but, until recently, without major success. When tennis tournaments restarted last August after a five-month break due to COVID-19, however, he won 18 of his last 20 ATP Challenger Tour matches, including two trophies, and now has taken that improved showing all the way into the Australian Open last four.

Photo: Tennis Australia/Morgan Hancock

About a year ago he visited Israel to settle some personal affairs, according to the One website. While training in Tel Aviv, Karatsev, who still has an Israeli passport, showed locals that in addition to his skills with the racquet he still speaks fluent Hebrew.

In September, Weintraub approached the then-incoming chair of the Israel Tennis Association, Avi Peretz, about Karatsev and together they tried to convince him to play for Israel. However, Karatsev had already signed up for the Davis Cup as a Russian player and the moment was lost.

Ranked 114, Karatsev is the first Grand Slam debutant to reach the semi-finals of the Open.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” he said in his post-match interview.

The injury-dogged Karatsev has been on the verge of playing a Grand Slam for years, but on nine previous attempts, he lost in qualifying.

Full coverage in this week’s AJN.

read more: