Australian Open semi-finalist Karen Khachanov has come under fire from Azerbaijan tennis officials for his post-match message on a TV camera.

Karen Khachanov has defended himself after his support at the Australian Open for a contested Armenian enclave sparked a strongly worded complaint from Azerbaijan tennis officials.

The Russian, who has Armenian roots, wrote a message on a television camera lens after his fourth-round win at Melbourne Park that said: “Keep believing until the very end. Artsakh, hold on!”

In a previous round, the semi-finalist wrote: “Artsakh stay strong.”

They were referencing the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated enclave of Azerbaijan over which Baku and Yerevan have fought two wars.

“I have Armenian roots. From my father’s side, from my grandfather’s side, even from my mum’s side. I’m half-Armenian,” he said after reaching the semi-finals, with an Armenian flag seen in Rod Laver Arena.

“To be honest, I don’t want to go deeper than that and I just wanted to show strength and support to my people. That’s it.”

In a letter posted online, the Azerbaijan Tennis Federation said it had protested to Australian Open organisers and the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

It demanded he be “punished” with “harsh measures”.

“Writing heartfelt wishes on the camera lens is a kind of tradition in tennis but Khachanov abused this, using it in his dirty plans,” it added.

Khachanov said he was not aware of the letter and had not been told to stop his post-match messages “so far”.

DJOKER’S COLD TSITSIPAS SNUB A WARNING TO RIVALS

Scott Gullan

Novak Djokovic’s selective memory should worry his next opponent at the Australian Open.

The soon-to-be GOAT has won so many matches and major titles during his incredible career that he occasionally, and understandably, forgets some of them.

It happened again on Monday night after his fourth round demolition of Alex de Minaur, when it was suggested to Djokovic that there was no-one left in the men’s singles draw with enough big match experience to really challenge him.

Typically, he refuted the notion he already had the championship title in the bag by pointing out that Stefanos Tsitsipas had gone deep in plenty of other grand slams, but added: “I think he has never played a finals, am I wrong?”

Djokovic was indeed mistaken because Tsitsipas made the final of the 2021 French Open. And the Serbian probably should have remembered that match, given that he also played in it and won.

He sheepishly apologised, saying it was an innocent mistake and that no offence was intended, but it was an ominous reminder to everyone of how his mind works.

As de Minaur learnt the hard way, there are other things that Djokovic just never forgets and there’s always a price to pay for anyone who pokes the bear.

While he hadn’t even played, let alone beaten Djokovic before their fourth round massacre, the ‘Demon’ was already in the Serbian’s black book because he had publicly supported the federal government’s decision to deport him last year when he refused to get vaccinated against Covid.

That could spell bad news for Djokovic’s quarterfinal opponent Andrey Rublev.

The Russian has beaten Djokovic once in their three previous meetings but it happened in the final of last year’s Serbia Open in Belgrade – right in front of his home fans.

Rublev can take it as read that the payback will come when they meet in Melbourne on Wednesday because Djokovic has already been plotting his revenge against the Russian.

“He looks a bit like de Minaur,” Djokovic said. “I hope the result will be the same.”

Lucky just to make it past the fourth round after his epic round of 16 encounter with Holger Rune was decided by a fifth set tiebreaker, Rublev has his own demons to conquer.

A consistent performer at grand slams, he has already played in six quarter-finals – including the Australian Open in 2021 – but lost every time and admitted it was now messing with his head as he prepares to face Djokovic.

“In the beginning, I was not ready because the other players were much better than me… players like Rafa (Nadal) and I was a teenager so physical-wise, nothing,” he said

“But the other times that I had chances was mental. I couldn‘t handle it. That’s it. Simple.

“I know that Novak is a very tough player to beat, especially in the slams.

“I don‘t have experience winning these kinds of matches and he’s one of the best in history.

“The only chance I have is if I play my best tennis, just fight for every ball.”

THE NET CORD THAT COST STAR $217,000

– Scott Gullan

A lucky net cord on his third match point handed Andrey Rublev a victory for the ages over teenage sensation Holger Rune in one of the more extraordinary matches of the Australian Open.

The momentum changed a handful of times in a pulsating fifth set before the Russian No. 5 seed prevailed in a 3hr 37min classic 6-3 3-6 6-3 4-6 7-6 (11) which involved saving two match points and coming back from a five-point tie-break deficit.

Rublev refused to die despite 19-year-old Rune being seemingly in control of the final set when he led 5-2. The Dane then served for the match at 5-4 but couldn’t convert.

Then at 5-6 on his own service game Rublev was in all sorts with Rune having two match points but he got tight and the more experienced Russian steadied.

However, the 10-point tie-break looked seemingly over when the young gun raced to a 5-0 lead. He was then just three points away from victory at 7-2 before Rublev came again.

He reeled off seven straight points to have his own match points at 9-7. But Rune saved the first before producing one of the shots of the past week, a ridiculous double-handed backhand down the line to level the scores at 9-9.

Rublev delivered on his serve to set up a third match point which he converted in a way not worthy of the contest, a net cord with the ball just trickling over Rune’s side of the net.

“When I hit it at the beginning the ball clearly hit the net on my side,” Rublev said about the final point. “I don’t know how it went over.

“I have no words, I’m shaking. I have never in my life been able to win matches like this, it is the first ever time I won something like this.

“To be in a quarter-final now, this is something I will remember all my life.”

Rublev, 25, momentarily forgot Australia’s Alex de Minaur was coming up against nine-time champion Novak Djokovic given he was already thinking about the Serbian as his next opponent.

“No-one wants to face Novak, I prefer to be on the other side of the draw,” he said before being reminded that Djokovic still had to get past the local hero.

It will be Rublev’s seventh appearance in a grand slam quarter-final and his second at Melbourne Park. He lost to eventual finalist Daniil Medvedev in the final eight in 2021.

If he was a racehorse Rublev’s form guide coming into the Australian Open would have read: Capable type, out-of-form and may be in need of the run.

He lost both opening matches in Adelaide, falling to Roberto Bautista Agut in his first match on Australian soil and then getting taken down by Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second week.

But he managed to get past a dangerous opening round match-up against Dominic Thiem and then took four-sets to get past Emil Ruusuvuori before stepping up his level in a dominant display against Great Britain’s Daniel Evans winning comfortably 6-4 6-2 6-3.

While many in Australia probably didn’t know much about Rune before, they do now as he confirmed he was a star in the making.

He was playing just the second five-set match of his career against Rublev and had first announced himself at last year’s French Open where he made the quarter-finals, taking down Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth round.

Rune was one of the hottest players on tour at the end of last year going on a 19-2 which included winning the Paris-1000 title in November, defeating Djokovic in the final.

GREEK FREAK READY FOR ‘KYRGIOS-LIKE’ SUPPORT

Nick Kyrgios and his most fanatical supporters withstanding, the mutual love between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Australia’s Greek community is still blooming.

If Tsitsipas had any concerns his wild popularity in Australia might be damaged after his ugly spat with Kyrgios at Wimbledon last year, those fears have been put to rest this week.

Safely through to the Australian Open quarter-finals for the fourth time in the last five years, if anything, the Adonis seems more adored than ever. And the devotion is reciprocal because the 24-year-old heart-throb is smitten with Australia too.

“Wherever I look I see Greek faces, I see Greek people speaking Greek. Of course, it‘s very important when you’re far away from home to have that sort of feeling,” he said.

“Because Melbourne is the second-biggest city after Athens with the biggest Greek population. I would consider it my home slam.

“The French people have Roland Garros, the Brits have Wimbledon, the Americans have the US Open. For me it‘s the Australian Open.”

Australian-Greek tennis fans are always among the most loyal and devoted in the sport so turn out in huge numbers to support all their favourite players.

Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, who both have Greek heritage, felt the love last year when they teamed up to win the Australian Open doubles crown.

And even though Tsitsipas fell out with Kyrgios at Wimbledon, he’s still getting the rock star treatment in Melbourne as he prepares for his quarter-final clash on Tuesday with Jiri Lehecka.

Tsitsipas is the clear favourite to win but the unseeded Czech could present him with a tricky test because he’s already the biggest surprise package in the men’s draw this year.

Just 21, Lehecka had never won any grand slam match before last week – losing in the first round at all four majors in 2022 – but showed what he can do by pulling off successive victories over 11th seed Cameron Norrie and world No. 7 Felix Auger-Aliassime.

“It feels amazing. To be in the quarters, I wouldn‘t believe it if somebody told me this when I was on my way over here,” he said.

“When we were on our way here to Australia, me and my coach felt that my tennis level is growing, that my game has a potential to be successful over here.

“Of course I didn‘t expect that, but deep inside, me and my team, we believe that I have the game and that I am able to produce very good tennis which can take me to higher places.”

Three years older than Lehecka and a regular at the business end of major events, Tsitsipas looks to have everything in his favour – not just the crowd.

Runner-up at the French Open in 2021, the pressure and expectation is building on him to break through and win a first grand slam title but he has been in great form, physically and mentally, since returning to Australia.

Significantly, he looks to have rediscovered how to keep his cool after he fell for the bait and let Kyrgios get under his skin last year.

And he’s also shown he’s got the stomach for a long fight after surviving a gut-busting five-set encounter with Italy’s highly-rated Jannik Sinner.

“Titles come if I play good. That takes care of itself,” he said.

“If you‘re able to play the best you can produce on the court, I feel like the rest just follows naturally. It’s a natural flow of things.

“We‘re all dealing with pressure when we’re playing … you have to stay present, otherwise if your mind wanders around, creates sort of scenarios, situations, that’s not really how you can play and peak in your performance.”

Lehecka is hoping he can get inside the head of Tsitsipas and mess with his mind.

They have only played each other once before – in the Netherlands last year – and Tsitsipas won the match, but not before Lehecka gave him a fright by winning the opening set.

“He will remember,” Lehecka said. “And he will know what my strengths are. He will feel that I can get him under pressure.

“But at the same time I know that he‘s a great player. He’s No. 4 in the world. If you are in the top 10, then you must show some extraordinary tennis … but I know how to play against him.”

Originally published as Australian Open 2023: Demands Russian be ‘punished with harsh measures’

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