Aslan Karatsev arrived in Dubai unseeded, but by no means under the radar after his head-turning performances at the start of the year.
The Russian reached the Australian Open semi-finals from qualifying in his Grand Slam main draw debut, and was a part of Russia’s ATP Cup winning squad. The success just kept coming for the hard-working 27-year-old, who lifted his first doubles trophy last week in Doha with Andrey Rublev. Karatsev then defeated Rublev in the semi-final this week on the way to his maiden ATP Tour singles title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
ATPTour.com caught up with Karatsev after his victory to talk about his week, and the path that has taken him from Israel and Russia all the way to glory in Dubai.
What does it mean to you to win your first ATP Tour title?
It means a lot. It was a long journey from 18 years old, when I stopped playing the juniors and turned pro. It’s almost 10 years, or even more. So it’s a long journey, and I put in a lot of hard work. [There were] a lot of ups and downs. I also was injured during this time, so I’m really happy that I recovered and was ready to compete again on that level.
You had to win four matches in three sets and defeat four seeded players to get this trophy. At what point in the week did you start to believe that you could win this title?
I was preparing myself just for every single match, because every match here is really tough. Especially on this surface, where everyone is serving well. A small mistake, and you can lose easily. So you have to focus on every match.
I think the difficult one, mentally, was the semi-final against Rublev. I tried to dictate more with my game, and I prepared a lot mentally for that match.
You mentioned winning your second Top 10 match against Rublev, who you teamed up with last week to win the doubles title in Doha. Did beating Andrey give you even more confidence?
Yeah, we played together one week in Doha and we won the trophy. But once you are playing each other, you step on the court and you’re opponents. It’s your job. And [a win like this] gives you a lot of confidence because you see the level that these Top 10 players are competing with. It gives me confidence that I really can be there and play at that level.
You had an incredible start to the season on Russia’s ATP Cup squad and then reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open. Now that you’ve had time to process it, how has life changed for you after Melbourne?
Of course, the big change is that I went up in the Rankings. But I tried to stay more focused, to play hard whenever I step out on the court. I’m enjoying the moment. I mean, I’m 27. I’m not old, but still, 27… [laughs]
It was a great week in the ATP Cup, we won the trophy. And playing a great two weeks in Australia gave me a lot of confidence. So I arrived in Dubai with full energy after winning a title in doubles in Doha.
There are now four Russian players inside the Top 50. What is your relationship like with players like Daniil Medvedev, Karen Khachanov and Rublev? Have they given you any useful tips or advice?
Yeah, we all have a good relationship. Whenever we see each other, we are talking. Especially at the ATP Cup, we shared so many emotions and we talked a lot. And of course, I try to get some outside tips from each player. I can ask them, and they have a really open mind [and want] to help.
I think it’s great, four players in the Top 50 from Russia. I think in that way we can push each other. And Daniil Medvedev is No. 2 in the world right now, it’s an incredible achievement.
Could you take a moment to acknowledge some of the key figures in your life and career who have helped you to reach this milestone?
My family. My father was supporting me from when I started to play. My mom, my sister, all my family. The people around me and my friends. Definitely my coach right now [Yahor Yatsyk], who is helping me a lot mentally. It’s one of the most important things in our sport, to be ready mentally.
Talk a bit about how you got into tennis. What made you want to become a professional player?
My family moved from Russia to Israel when I was around three years old. One day we were walking from the beach back to our home and we just saw the tennis centre. And my parents said okay, my older sister would try tennis. And she started to practise there for like two years. By the time I turned four, I was trying to take the racquet away from her and start to play on the wall.
And then step by step, I started to play. My sister quit after two years, and then I started. All the attention went from my father to me. [laughs] I started to practise seriously when I was six or seven, I already had a morning session, fitness session and I became No. 1 in Israel. That’s how it started.
Who was your biggest tennis idol growing up? Which players do you admire now?
I wouldn’t say idol, but I always liked to watch Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. At that time when I was growing up there were fantastic matches between Agassi and Sampras. And Roger, when I was seven he had already started winning [laughs]. It’s unbelievable to watch what he does on the court.
What do you consider to be your biggest passion outside of tennis and can you tell us a little bit about that interest?
I think if I wasn’t a tennis player, I would be a football player. I have liked to play football since I was a kid, so I would say football.
This is a milestone moment in your career. How will you celebrate this victory?
Celebrate? Maybe dinner and some day off. I try to not get out of my rhythm. Of course, I will take some rest for a few days, but then there is travelling and playing another week.
Every week it starts from the beginning. You have to compete. You have to prepare your body. You have to be ready mentally and physically.