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Djokovic sets up Karatsev showdown

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BELGRADE: Novak Djokovic will meet 2021’s breakout star Aslan Karatsev in the Serbia Open semifinals on Saturday after both players enjoyed straight-set quarterfinal wins on Friday in Belgrade.


Djokovic made quick work of fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic with a 6-1, 6-3 win, moving closer to a third title at home. Later in the day, Karatsev set a replay of their Australian Open semifinal when he defeated Italian qualifier Gianluca Mager 6-3, 6-4.


“I think personally I’m feeling very well on court, moving well, hitting the ball well and, of course, enjoying the home court advantage,” Djokovic said. “So I’m really excited to go out in the semifinals on the court again tomorrow.


“Karatsev is on fire,” Djokovic said. “He’s very confident. We know that he has had the best four, five months of his career.”


The World No 1 is playing in just his second event since winning the Australian Open. He opened his clay-court season last week in Monte-Carlo where he was upset by Daniel Evans. On Wednesday, he comfortably dispatched Soonwoo Kwon and was just as solid against Kecmanovic, taking charge of points early and coming to the net regularly.


It was the first meeting between the two compatriots with Djokovic in full command from first point to last. He broke the 21-year-old’s first service game and then established greater dominance by breaking him again to love for 5-1. The most competitive game was when Djokovic came through five deuce points when he served for the first set.


It was all smooth sailing until Djokovic went to serve for the match at 5-2, and got broken. The Serbian rebounded quickly, breaking right back to wrap up the win in one hour and 15 minutes.


“There is a lot more for him to improve on with his footwork and his game — for all of us really,” Djokovic said. “Kecmanovic definitely has the potential to go far. He has already won one tournament and I know that his goals, his ambitions, are high.”


Karatsev, the 27-year-old World No 28, improved to 16-4 on the season as he moved a step closer to claiming his second title of the year — and his second at the ATP 500 level — following his triumph in Dubai. The Russian is playing just his second tour-level tournament on clay, having last week reached the second round of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, where he lost to eventual champion Stefanos Tsitsipas. — AFP


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