Aslan Karatsev reached his first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final at the Mutua Madrid Open on Thursday when he overcame China’s Zhang Zhizhen 7-6(3), 6-4 to become the second qualifier to advance to the last four in tournament history.
In an intriguing clash between two first-time Masters 1000 quarter-finalists, it was Karatsev who held his nerve at key moments inside Manolo Santana Stadium. The 29-year-old saved all three break points he faced in the first set and produced a clean-hitting display in the second set to triumph after one hour and 40 minutes.
“I am happy with my condition. Back to the top level,” Karatsev said. “Playing well and feeling well. From the qualifying, match by match, it has got harder, so mentally you have to be there more. Because your opponent doesn’t give you any free points so you have to be there yourself. The important thing is now recover well.”
Having dropped as low as No. 129 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings on 17 April, Karatsev has refound his best form in Madrid, defeating seeded players Botic van de Zandschulp, Alex de Minaur and Daniil Medvedev.
Playing with confidence against Zhang, Karatsev stuck his groundstrokes aggressively in the fast conditions, hitting 29 winners to improve to 1-1 in his ATP Head2Head series against Zhang. With his ninth tour-level win of the year, Karatsev has jumped to No. 51 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.
“I started the year inside the Top 100 then I dropped and lost some matches. You have to keep going and believe and I have a team behind me that is always supporting me and believing in me,” Karatsev said.
The qualifier will aim to continue his run when he takes on fourth-seeded Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas or German lucky loser Jan-Lennard Struff in the semi-finals.
Former World No. 14 Karatsev has a history of producing on the big stage. At the 2021 Australian Open, he moved past seeds Diego Schwartzman, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Grigor Dimitrov to become the first man to reach the semi-finals on Grand Slam debut.
History-making Zhang was the first Chinese man to reach the quarter-finals at an ATP Masters 1000. The 26-year-old earned upset wins against Denis Shapovalov, Cameron Norrie and Taylor Fritz in the Spanish capital to advance to his third tour-level quarter-final. He leaves the clay-court event up 33 spots to No. 66 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.