Preview: Karatsev headlines last day of qualifying

 - Alix Ramsay

World No.62 is one step away from returning to the RG main draw

Aslan Karatsev, Roland-Garros 2023, qualifying second round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

It probably helps that Aslan Karatsev knows about the stresses and strains that go hand in hand with life at a Grand Slam.

Back in 2021, he pushed his way through qualifying at the Australian Open to make his debut at a major championship. But he was nowhere near finished – Karatsev had big plans for his stay in Melbourne.

As he moved through the rounds, he removed Diego Schwartzman, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Grigor Dimitrov from his path. Now he was through to the semi-finals. Unfortunately for him, Novak Djokovic was waiting for him and that did not end well for our hero – he was beaten in straight sets. But from starting the tournament as the world No.114 he had now cracked the top 50. Karatsev had arrived.

He followed that up by winning the title in Dubai, taking the silver medal with Elena Vesnina in mixed doubles at the Tokyo Olympics and gaining revenge over Djokovic (he beat the then world No.1 in the Belgrade semi-finals). By February 2022, he had reached a career high of No.14.

The trouble with life as a tennis player is that the rankings computer has no heart. Did you do well last year? Good – now you have to do just as well this year in order to stay still.

Aslan Karatsev, 1er tour, qualifications, Roland-Garros©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

To move up, you must do even better. No resting on your laurels here, mate. And Karatsev did not do better. He didn’t even do as well in 2022 as he has in 2021 so his ranking dropped.

Starting again this year, he reached the semi-finals of the ATP 250 in Pune in January, he qualified and reached the semi-finals of the Masters 1000 in Madrid (taking out Daniil Medvedev along the way) and arrived here with his clay-court game in good fettle and with a ranking of No.62.

Today the qualifying top seed must find a way past Nicolas Moreno De Alboran of the United States on Court 7.

The New Yorker has never played a tour level match (he earns his crust on the Challenger circuit) but at the age of 25, he is still working towards that goal.

With a ranking of No.187 his motto is: “If it was easy, everyone would do it" and while it may not be easy today, both men know they are just two sets away from their goal.

Nicolas Moreno de Alboran, Roland-Garros 2023, qualifying© Julien Crosnier/FFT

Three to watch

Court 6: Tamara Zidansek (SLO) v Aliona Bolsova (ESP)

Cast your mind back a couple of years. It is the semi-finals and Zidansek, then ranked No.85, is facing Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the No.32. Until that point, she had never got beyond the second round at a Grand Slam and while she was beaten in straight sets that day, it did seem that she had made a major breakthrough.

Since then, she has changed coaches several times and the breakthrough never materialised. But if she can beat Bolsova (ranked four places below her at No.69) and claim her ticket to the main draw, who knows what the future may hold. 

Tamara Zidansek, 2e tour, qualifications, Roland-Garros 2023 ©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Court 13: Dominik Koepfer (GER) v Thiago Seyboth Wild (BRA)

It is fair to say that the man from Furtwangen likes to fly under the radar. Quietly and efficiently, Koepfer has edged his way up the pecking order, moving on and up every year from 2016.

Only an arm injury at the start of last year limited his progression but now, fit again, he is hoping to reprise his role as a giant killer. In 2019, he qualified for the US Open and went on to reach the fourth round. If he can get past Seyboth Wild today, another fairy tale run could await him. Clay is the left-hander’s favourite surface, after all.

Dominik Koepfer, Roland-Garros 2023, qualifying© Andre Ferreira/FFT

Court 12: Taylor Townsend (USA) v Maria Timofeeva

If the others still left in the draw are feeling the pressure, Townsend is looking remarkably calm. No need to panic over a dropped set or a fluffed forehand – they are as nothing compared to the pressures of taking care of a lively two-year-old (she had a baby boy in 2021).

And while she would dearly love to be in the singles main draw, her doubles prowess means that she will be staying in Paris for a while longer no matter what happens on Friday.

With two titles to her name already this year, Townsend is ranked world No.6 in the doubles order.

Timofeeva, on the other hand, is still only 19 and just setting out on her career. A win today would see her make her Grand Slam debut when the main draw starts on Sunday.

Taylor Townsend, Roland-Garros 2023, qualifying first round © Cédric Lecocq/FFT