‘It’s an unbelievable feeling’: Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev dazzles as world No.114’s incredible Australian Open run goes on

Little-known Russian tennis ace Aslan Karatsev has stunned viewers at the Australian Open by ousting another seed with a heroic comeback win, becoming the first qualifier to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam since 1996.

The 27-year-old world number 114, who is in his first main draw at a major tournament after winning three qualifying matches in Doha to qualify, hit back from two sets down to beat Felix Auger Aliassime, the number 20 seed ranked almost 100 places above him in the world.

Karatsev had already provided a remarkable upset in the previous round, when the man ranked at 263 when the tour stopped last March breezed past world number nine Diego Schwartzmann in straight sets.

"It’s an unbelievable feeling," admitted Karatsev, who could be part of the first trio of Russian men to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam in the Open era, depending on Andrey Rublev's clash with Casper Ruud and Daniil Medvedev's meeting with Mackenzie McDonald in the fourth round on Monday.

"I qualified so I was already very happy. I’ve had a lot of worries over the past few years so I am relieved, overjoyed to be at this stage.

"It took me two sets to find a way to play [against Aliassime]. I try to play a more aggressive style, like going for a big serve.

"I try to work the point as short as I can - not so long points, try not to run behind the baseline that much, try to stay close to the line."

Karatsev is the first qualifier to reach the quarterfinals in Melbourne since Goran Ivanisevic in 1989, and is now expected to rise into at least the low 60s of the rankings.

World number eight Rublev already knew how talented Karatsev was after winning the ATP Cup with him as part of Russia's triumphant team last week.

"In Russia, he was always one of the best ones," said Rublev. "And I remember he was talented and had a nice touch.

"But then somehow things were not working, and at the end of last year he won a couple of challengers in a row beating really great guys, and in St. Petersburg he beat [Tennys] Sandgren.

"Then he had a really tough match against Karen [Khachanov], and since that time I knew that if he was going to keep going, for sure he would do better results and get better results."

Asked for his insights into how Russian tennis has reached its current high point, the unassuming Karatsev replied: "It's tough to say.

"Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov [were previously] in the top ten. [The current crop] were good in the juniors as well.

"They grew up in the juniors as number one. The generation of 1996, 1997 is really strong. We talk when we see each other, especially in the locker room. That's quite often."

Although Karatsev faces a tough quarterfinal test against the seeded Grigor Dimitrov, his next opponent is an ostensibly easier prospect than the man he beat, Dominic Thiem.

Dimitrov progressed after last year's runner-up was clearly well below par during their match, admitting to "physical issues" afterwards, and the social media followings of Karatsev and his next opponent are an indication of just how much of a surprise package the Vladikavkaz-born underdog is.

While Dimitrov has a combined Twitter and Instagram following of more than 1.5 million, Karatsev has an audience of little more than 8,000 across the two platforms.

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Former world number four Brad Gilbert, who has been on pundit duties during the tournament, is just one of Karatsev's high-profile new fans.

“The eye test told me this dude was playing like a top 20 player," Gilbert swooned after Karatsev's win over Schwartzman.

"If you and I were sitting in the stands and you would have told me one guy was ranked world number nine and the other guy number 114, the guy who was number 114 was Schwartzman.

"He just man-handled him. Schwartzman didn’t play bad, he didn’t lose. The guy just took it from him. I was blown away.”

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