Israeli who plays tennis for Russia returns to Israel for Watergen Open - interview

Karatsev, who is certainly no stranger to Israel, spoke to The Jerusalem Post after playing in both the singles and doubles draws at the recent US Open.

 ASLAN KARATSEV, a Russian tennis player with Jewish heritage who lived in Israel for nearly a decade, will play this month at the Tel Aviv Watergen Open (photo credit: SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS)
ASLAN KARATSEV, a Russian tennis player with Jewish heritage who lived in Israel for nearly a decade, will play this month at the Tel Aviv Watergen Open
(photo credit: SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS)

Aslan Karatsev may be the best Israeli tennis player to come along in years. But the accomplished 29-year-old right-hander, who was a semifinalist in the 2021 Australian Open and is ranked number 39 in the world after reaching a career-high of number 14 earlier this year, is not likely to ever represent Israel at the Davis Cup or the Olympics.

Karatsev was born in Vladikavkaz, Russia, and made aliyah with his family at the age of three, grew up in Israel, and returned to Russia with his family when he was 12 after it seemed likely he would not receive the support necessary to get him to the top of the tennis world.

The fluent Hebrew speaker still has family and friends in Israel and hopes to spend some time with them – perhaps even over Rosh Hashanah – when he returns to Israel to play in the ATP 250 series Tel Aviv Watergen Open, to be held from September 25 to October 2 in Tel Aviv.

Karatsev spoke to The Jerusalem Post after returning to his home in Moscow after playing in both the singles and doubles draws at the recent US Open. He will soon be off to Metz, France, for another ATP 250 event before heading to Israel.

Karatsev is certainly no stranger to Israel.

“This is the place where I spent half of my life, a bit less,” Karatsev noted. “Israel is a warm place. I feel good to always come back to Israel...I grew up there and to play a big event in front of the crowds is something nice. I know many people and have many friends in Israel. So I think playing in the tournament will be special for me.”

"I feel good to always come back to Israel...playing in the tournament will be special for me"

Aslan Karatsev

Karatsev was in Israel for a few days in August and hopes to return more frequently.

Aslan Karatsev in action during his quarter final match against Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov  (credit: JAIMI JOY/REUTERS)Aslan Karatsev in action during his quarter final match against Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov (credit: JAIMI JOY/REUTERS)

Several years ago, Karatsev had considered returning to Israel to play tennis.

“There was a conversation four or five years ago. We didn’t find the right solution for both sides. So I said ‘if you cannot offer anything more, I’ll stay where I am right now.’”

Aslan Karatsev's tennis career, so far

Karatsev has experienced tremendous growth and success in singles, doubles and mixed doubles in the past few years. He played in his first ATP Tour main-draw debut at the 2013 St. Petersburg Open, where he received entry to the main draw as a wildcard. In 2015, he won his first main-draw match on the ATP Tour at the Kremlin Cup. At the 2020 Summer Olympics, he won the silver medal for Russia in mixed doubles with Elena Vesnina.

In March 2021, he won his first ATP doubles title with Andrey Rublev at the Qatar Open. One week later, he won his first singles title. Though he entered the tournament as a wildcard, he defeated South African Lloyd Harris in the finals of the Dubai Open.

One month later, Karatsev defeated world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in his native country at the Serbia Open. Karatsev reached the finals of that tournament.

At the October 2021 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Karatsev reached the fourth round. Later in the month, Karatsev captured his second career title by defeating Marin Cilic in the finals of the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.

The year 2022 has been a busy and productive one for Karatsev as well. In January 2022, he defeated Andy Murray, in the 2022 Sydney Tennis Classic final, to win his third title.

In early August, Karatsev competed in the ATP Masters 1000 Cincinnati where he lost to fellow top-ranked Jewish player, Diego Schwarzman, for the first time. Karatsev had beaten Schwartzman in their two previous meetings – in the 2021 Australian Open and again at the 2021 ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid.

At the US Open two weeks ago, Karatsev lost in a three-and-a-half-hour first-round singles heartbreaker. He had been leading two sets to none against Fabio Fognini, before ultimately losing 1-6, 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.

In doubles, Karatsev and partner Luke Saville advanced to the second round before losing to tournament winners, No. 1-seeded Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury. To date, Karatsev has earned a total of $3,277,753 in prize money for his singles and doubles efforts.

Looking ahead to the Tel Aviv Open

Karatsev hopes to increase his earnings in Tel Aviv, though the competition will be fierce. The ATP event offers $1,117,930 in prize money and features some of the world’s top tennis players including Novak Djokovic, a winner of 21 Grand Slam tournaments in singles, former world No. 3 Dominik Thiem from Austria, winner of the 2020 US Open, Cilic and Schwartzman. Other players include Karen Khachanov, Botic van de Zandschulp and Arthur Rinderknech from France.

“We are delighted that the tournament lineup turned out to be very strong,” said Michael Mirilashvili, Watergen CEO and president of the Tel Aviv Watergen Open. “A special thank you to the Israel Tennis Association for the help they provided and their participation in the organization of this event so meaningful for the whole Israel. I hope we will watch some bright tennis which both the players and the crowd will enjoy. Thanks to the TV broadcast, tennis fans in 134 countries will watch the tournament Tel Aviv Watergen throughout the whole week.”

Alison Lee, Executive Vice-President of ATP’s International Group also commented on the event.

“We’re excited to see the ATP Tour return to Tel Aviv this year. Introducing single-year tournaments to the calendar has been an opportunity for ATP to take tennis to new markets, and it’s incredibly encouraging to have great cities like Tel Aviv step up to host an event. This shows strong interest in tennis internationally and validates the agile approach we’ve taken. We would like to thank the organizers for making this return possible and building on the city’s rich tennis history. The event will play an important role in delivering an exciting second half of the season for our fans.”

Karatsev looks forward to doing his part in the tournament. He is also looking forward to spending time with family members as well as with his good friend, Israeli tennis icon, Jonathan Erlich.

He is going to retire soon. I have been lucky to learn from a legend.”