As the 2021 Australian Open quarterfinals begin, the Russians are seeing uncommon success. Not for 20 years have so many Russian men had success in a Major of tennis.
Russian women’s tennis has been present at the top of the world stage for years, led by Maria Sharapova and other top 10 women. But Russian men have not matched their female counterparts on the world stage. That isn’t the case as we move into the third decade of the 2000s.
The last Russian man to hold the title of World #1 was Martin Safin in 2000. He won the US Open that year and would go on to win the Australian Open in 2005. Yevgeny Kafelnikov also won two Majors as the century ended, with a win at the Australian in 1999, plus a Gold Medal at the Sydney games in 2000. But in the last 20 years no Russian men have disturbed the tennis world, until now.
Russian tennis has seen a resurgence. At the 2021 Australian Open, three Russians have earned sports in the final eight. Two are legitimate contenders for the best players in the world, outside of the “Big 3,” and another is a journeyman.
2021 Australian Open: Russian Tennis Success
Daniil Medvedev is ranked #4 in the world. He sits behind Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Dominic Thiem. At 25 years old, he is the most successful Russian men’s tennis player in two decades, with nine career titles and a final appearance in a Major (he took Rafael Nadal to five sets at the 2019 US Open) and a semifinal appearance at the 2020 US Open. He also won the prestigious ATP Finals in 2020.
Swift and crafty, Medvedev has all the shots needed to be a top player. He is quick with impressive defensive moves and a powerful forehand and offensive game. But he has his childhood rival nipping at his heels.
Medvedev and Andrey Rublev have been playing against each other since grade school. Two years younger than Medvedev, Rublev hasn’t had quite the Major success that Medvedev has. Rublev did win the 2014 Junior French Open, but his professional success isn’t that of Medvedev. The two are set to meet in the quarterfinals of the 2021 Australian Open.
This is the third time the two will play each other on tour. They have only ever met in quarterfinals, last time being at the US Open in 2020, in which Medvedev carried the day but would be defeated in the semifinals by the eventual champion, Dominic Thiem. Rublev has made three major quarterfinals, the 2017 and 2020 US Open and the 2020 French Open. He has never made it out of the quarters. In order to make his first major semifinal, he’s going to have to get past his childhood rival, a task he has yet to accomplish as a professional.
Rublev has a very different game than Medvedev. He relies far more on power than defense. He likes to play the quick points rather than grind it out matches. As he has matured on the court, he has found more defense and finesse, but Medvedev is good in 5 sets, Rublev hasn’t proven he is yet.
Aslan Karatsev is the final Russian in the 2021 Australian Open quarterfinals. His story couldn’t be more different. Whereas the other three are blooming stars, trying to push their way to the top of men’s tennis, Karatsev is a journeyman. At 27 years old he is the oldest of the Russian contingent and he’s never cracked the top 200 in the world. He’s spent his career playing the Challenger and Futures tournaments and doesn’t have a single title. He has had an impressive run through the 2021 Aussie Open.
To get to the quarterfinals he had to take out the young and talented Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime. In order to beat him, he had to come from two sets down. Those were the first two sets Karatsev had lost in the whole tournament. In the third round he beat Argentine Diego Schwartzman, who has been a Top 10 player and made four quarterfinals and a semifinal at multiple Majors. Karatsev beat him in straight sets.
Now the relatively unknown Aslan Karatsev must face off against Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov was supposed to be the next great player and has failed to live up to the expectations. Dimitrov has made it to three Australian Open quarterfinals, but he’s only made it to the last four once, in 2017. The journeyman Russian and pressure-filled Bulgarian are set to face off for a spot in the semifinals.
Karen Khachanov is the hardest hitting of the rising Russian players. Khachanov has an awesome serve with a powerful forehand. He fell in the third round of the 2021 Australian, but he is certainly a part of the rising Russian men in the ATP. Khachanov is 24, right between Rublev and Medvedev in age. He has only won a single title in his professional career. He’s made one quarterfinal at a Major, at the 2019 French Open. He is currently ranked #20 in the world but has been as high as #8.
Russian tennis, which has been dominated by female players, may be on the cusp of a new era on the men’s side. They have three young players who are posed to be threats to the top spots in the world and make late runs at the majors. In 2021, even a Russian journeyman have a run at the first Major of the year.
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