This semi-final, you had to be an ace of forecasts to guess it. Imagine, Aslan Karatsev (121st), lacking convincing results since his semi-final at the Australian Open 2021, opposed to Jan-Lennard Struff (65th), especially accustomed to the Challenger circuit, but quarter-finalist in Monte- Carl. Two players from qualifying in Madrid. Above all, two players who have already faced each other in this tournament since Karatsev had beaten Struff in the last qualifying round. The German had only validated his entry into the big picture in the forfeit game, as a lucky loser. He thus became the third draft in history to reach the semi-finals of a Masters 1000 after Thomas Johansson (Toronto 2004) and Lucas Pouille (Rome 2016).
In this half in the form of a surprise from the leader, Struff had the best start. Carried by an explosive service (4 aces and 100% of first serves on his first two service games), the German was the first to break to lead 3-1. Unfortunately for him, his momentum had just ended. Karatsev broke down in stride by reading his opponent’s serve better and better. All in rhythm, carried by a visible confidence in his risk-taking, the Russian became dominating, well helped by a Struff suddenly caught up by the efforts made to overcome Stefanos Tsitsipas in the previous round (7-6 5-7, 6-3) in 2h30. The German saw his opponent line up 4 games and force him to save a set point on his serve. On his commitment, Karatsev made no gift and logically pocketed the first round.
But logic rarely has a place in tennis, the dynamic immediately reversed in the second set. Victim of a blow less well, less mobile, less precise in his strikes, Karatsev lost his superb when Struff regained energy. He broke to lead 2-0 and would keep his advantage until the end of the set.
Jan-Lennard Struff is the first lucky loser in history to qualify for a Masters 1000 final.
Karatsev touched the adductors
Unfortunately for the show, Karatsev was physically damaged. Even if he continued to give everything he could on the court, he was visibly diminished and hindered in his movements. After conceding the break (4-3), the Russian brought in the physio to have his adductors manipulated and the doctor to have a painkiller administered. It was clear he wouldn’t be able to defend his chances to the end, reduced to a few flash shots when he didn’t need to move to be well placed on his strike. Karatsev was perhaps paying for the burst of energy from his tennis where the economy is an abstract concept. Imperturbable until then, Struff harvested a first match point with a backhand return in the tarps. On the second, it was the forehand return coming out of the court. Karatsev punished him on the third and fourth and got away with it after a game of almost a quarter of an hour. But on his serve, Struff did not tremble and qualified for the final where Carlos Alcaraz awaits him.