Who would have thought, when they squared off in the last round of qualifying ten days ago, that they would meet again to play for a place in the grand finale of the Mutua Madrid Open? Jan-Lennard Struff and Aslan Karatsev’s script at this year’s tournament is of Hollywood proportions.
Thursday was a day of upsets in the Caja Mágica. The German knocked out Stefanos Tsitsipas (7-6, 5-7, 6-3) in the night session, while in the first match of the day in the Manolo Santana Stadium, the ATP world No. 121 did likewise to Chinese player Zhizhen Zhang (7-6, 6-4).
In their qualifying match, Karatsev earned himself a place in the main draw with a 6-4, 6-2 victory. However, Struff’s journey in the Spanish capital was far from over. The withdrawal of Italian player Fabio Fognini allowed the German to progress to round 1 as a lucky loser.
Karatsev previously enjoyed a run to the semi-finals as a qualifier at the Australian Open (2021), and he has now become the second player to do so in Madrid after Frenchman Fabrice Santero achieved the feat in the tournament’s inaugural edition (2002). In Masters 1000 events, nobody has produced a similar streak since that of Felix Auger-Aliassime in Miami in 2019.
For his part, Struff is the third lucky loser to reach the semi-finals of a Masters 1000. The first was Sweden’s Thomas Johansson in Toronto (2004), followed by Frenchman Lucas Pouille in Rome (2016).
The reward for Zhizhen’s 29-year-old executioner is a guaranteed leap of 70 positions into the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings on Monday. On the other hand, if the player from Warstein progresses to the final, he will reach his career-high ranking by breaking into the Top 30.