Dubai: Yevgeny Kafelnikov, a former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam champion, predicted a roaring success for tennis in Russia after two players made it to the semi-finals of the season-opening grand slam Australian Open.
Novak Djokovic was up against qualifier Aslan Karatsav, while Daniil Medvedev will take on Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday in the two semi-finals of the men’s singles at the 2021 Australian Open.
Russia’s tennis had been on a growth path for a decade but at Melbourne Park, it has loomed larger than ever especially from the start of the season.
First, Medvedev and Andrey Rublev led Russia to glory in the ATP Cup and now at the Australian Open, the three Russian men - with World No. 114 Karatsav joining Medvedev and Rublev – in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time in the Open Era.
Kafelnikov - who is the last male player to have won the men’s singles and doubles titles at the same Grand Slam at the 1996 French Open - couldn’t be happier. “It was really expected that two of them [Medvedev and Rublev] got to where they are. The third one [Karatsev] is a big surprise, but a very happy surprise. I’m very happy for Aslan, finally getting his breakthrough,” Kafelnikov was quoted in the official ATPTour.com website.
“He’s [Karatsev] going to play a lot of tournaments now without any pressure for the remainder of the 2021 season in terms of getting into the main draws and a big pay cheque will also be a huge boost for him. I’m really happy for him,” added the Russian, who turned 47 on Thursday.
During the recent ATP Cup, it was clear Medvedev and Rublev were dominant forces for their country. The stars produced jaw-dropping performances against the best players in the world. They lost a combined two singles sets in the entire event, creating plenty of hype leading into the Australian Open.
They have lived up to those expectations during the season’s first Grand Slam, with Medvedev packing off Rublev in Wednesday’s quarter-finals. But to Kafelnikov, regardless of what has happened, this is just the beginning of bigger things to come for Russian tennis in the future.
“We all know that it’s inevitable that they’re going to win a Slam,” Kafelnikov observed.
“It’s a question of when and where,” he added.
At the 2019 US Open, Medvedev became the first Russian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final since Marat Safin won the 2005 Australian Open. He then lifted the biggest trophy of his career at last year’s Nitto ATP Finals.
Rublev led the ATP Tour with five crowns last season and he has stormed into the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings, making Russia the only country with two players in the elite group.
It was Kafelnikov who showed these players the way when he became the first Russian man to earn a Grand Slam singles championship at 1996 Roland Garros. In addition, he also won the 1999 Australian Open.
He had a gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and he also won four Grand Slam doubles titles. In 2019, Kafelnikov was inducted into the International Tennis Hall fo Fame.
Another former World No. 1 from Russia, Safin, also claimed two major trophies, with his most recent one coming at Melbourne Park in 2005. No man from Russia has won a Slam since, but Kafelnikov is excited for the countryman who can possible change that.
“To be honest, I would be happy if one of those guys or even both of them surpass me in terms of number of titles and weeks at No. 1 in the world,” Kafelnikov said of Medvedev and Rublev.
“I’d be happy. I’m not going to be jealous about it. My career was very successful, and hopefully they will have even better careers,” he added.
A 53-time titlist in singles and doubles in the past, Kafelnikov observed that while Russian children once looked up to him and Safin, they now naturally idolise Medvedev, Rublev and World No. 20 Karen Khachanov. “It’s a great example for the [Russian] parents who at one stage want to have their kids be on the same level [in sports],” Kafelnikov said.