Melbourne | Yastremska takes out Azarenka, but Svitolina retires hurt

Of the three Ukrainians in the Round of 16 of the Australian Open, two have made it into the quarter-finals, with Dayana Yastremska upsetting two-time champion Victoria Azarenka to join Marta Kostyuk, a winner on Sunday, but Elina Svitolina’s run ended abruptly when she retired with a back injury against Linda Noskova, putting the 19-year old slayer of World No 1 Iga Swiatek into the Last 8.

Playing against the Belarusian player? If I'm going to start talking about it, I think you're not going to like my answers, so I'm just gonna say I want to skip this question. Because I think, like, if you're asking this question, I'm sure you know how is it for us, for Ukrainians to play against Russians and Belarusian. I'm sure you know, so I don't think it's a good way to ask about this question, Dayana Yastremska

Yastremska, a former World No 21, is currently ranked 93, and had to qualify here in Melbourne, needing to go 3 sets in all 3 of her matches, but once she hit the main draw, she has shown off her pedigree, stunning the 7 seed and reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova, 6-1 6-2, in the 1st round, and taking  that momentum all the way into her maiden major quarter-final with an impressive 7-6(6) 6-4 win over former World No 1 Azarenka.

“My heart, I feel like it’s going to jump out of my body!” the 23-year-old exclaimed to Casey Dellacqua during her on-court interview on Rod Laver Arena. “I imagined myself losing to her 25 times because I was losing the tiebreaker, losing in the second set. I felt like I was always running behind the train.

“But I’m a little bit of a fighter, so that’s why I won this match!”

Not only has Azarenka twice lifted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, the Belarusian won her two most recent meetings with Yastremska, including a straight-sets win in Guadalajara.

On this occasion, though, the Belarusian was pushed onto the back foot early on in the match, falling behind an early break before rallying to twice serve for the opening set.

Yastremska is made of stern stuff, and fought back each time to force the contest into a tiebreak, shaking off a missed set point to convert a second with a forehand winner.

Azarenka looked to be turning the tables kicking off the second set, racing through the first 3 games and earning a chance for a 4-0 lead, but Yastremska quickly regained the initiative, reeling off the next 5 games of her own with the help of some audacious shot-making.

“I like to play aggressive, but I don’t like to make a lot of mistakes,” she explained on court. “I felt a little tired, and my coaches were telling me to play points in two shots. I didn’t know how, especially when Vika was running so much!

“I just started going boom, boom, boom! I don’t know how to explain it. I was just enjoying playing, and I could see my team was so confident in me. Even when I was losing, I could see them going, ‘Come on!’ and it made me be like, ‘Come on, let’s go!’ ”

Yastremska hit through her fatigue and set up match point with two backhand winners, and clinched the upset with one last winner off the forehand side.

“You can see that I’m barely standing, but I’m trying to pretend like I’m not tired,” she said to laughter from the crowd.

Victoria Azarenka was sent packing by Dayana Yastremska in straight sets on Rod Laver Arena

© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Yastremska fled Ukraine at the start of the Russian invasion, aided by Belarus, and has been vocal about the atrocities being experienced in her country, so her latest win must be all the more sweeter for her.

At her press conference, she was asked if she put herself under any extra pressure in the match because of her opponent’s nationality.

“Playing against the Belarusian player? If I’m going to start talking about it, I think you’re not going to like my answers, so I’m just gonna say I want to skip this question,” Yastremska said. “Because I think, like, if you’re asking this question, I’m sure you know how is it for us, for Ukrainians to play against Russians and Belarusian.

“I’m sure you know, so I don’t think it’s a good way to ask about this question,” she added.

She admitted that she has been putting a lot of pressure on herself since the war began, stating that she wanted to show better results in order to make Ukraine proud.

“I was putting a lot of pressure on myself in different ways,” she said. “In the way that it’s the war and I have to show better results, you know, for Ukraine. And I wasn’t playing just for myself in the beginning.

“Then I was putting pressure on myself that before, like, when I was younger, I was much better than I am right now.

“In many ways, it’s too long, you know, if I will say every pressure that I was putting on myself. But now I decided that, from this year, no more pressure, no more, like, high expectations for myself. Just be the way you are, and we will see how it’s gonna go,” she added.

Linda Noskova hugs an upset Elina Svitolina after the 19th seed retired with a back injury at 0-3 down on Monday

© William West/ via Getty Images

Competing in a wide-open half of the women’s draw, Yastremska will next face the young unseeded Czech, Noskova, who won the first 3 games of her 4th-round match against Svitolina, the 19th seed, before the former World No 3 was forced to retire due to a back injury on Margaret Court Arena.

The Ukrainian took a medical timeout at 2-0 down in the first set, during which she received treatment for her lower back, but she pulled out after being broken for the second time on her return.

“I got a spasm, or I don’t know exactly what it is, but like shooting pain in the first game, the last two points,” she said. “Couldn’t do anything, completely locked my back.”

This was the first time Svitolina, who was aiming for her 3rd quarter-final appearance at the Australian Open, withdrew from a Grand Slam during the tournament due to an injury.

Svitolina left the court in tears after the painful injury, knowing she had missed a golden opportunity to make her maiden Grand Slam final in Melbourne, with the top half of the draw blown wide open after the shocking defeats of Swiatek following the No 3 seed and 2023 runner-up Elena Rybakina’s loss in round 2.

Noskova, ranked 50 in the world, is enjoying a break-out tournament, including her stunning upset 3-set win over top-seeded Swiatek in the 3rd-round.

“Obviously today was not the way I had planned to win,” said the 19-year-old Noskova. “I feel sorry for Elina, I hope she gets very well soon.”

Anna Kalinskaya upset Jasmine Paolini, the No 26 seed, to reach her first quarter-final at a major

© Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Later in the day, unseeded Anna Kalinskaya took out 26th-seeded Jasmine Paolini from Italy, 6-4 6-2, in just 77 minutes, becoming the 4th first-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist at this year’s Australian Open.

The composed Russian delivered controlled aggression to keep herself in front throughout against Paolini, landing 70% of her first serves, and finding 20 winners to only 13 unforced errors.

Her counter-punching prowess was ably demonstrated as she accelerated towards the finishing line, when, facing a point to go down a double break, the Italian was seemingly bossing a baseline exchange, only for Kalinskaya to whip a laser forehand pass down the line to seal the 5-2 lead.

She joins Kostyuk, Noskova and Yastremska in booking places in the Last 8 of a major for the first time this fortnight.

“It feels amazing,” Kalinskaya said. “Playing so many matches in such a beautiful tournament it’s something special, for sure.

“I’ve improved my game – obviously that’s the key to winning matches. I’ll keep fighting and staying positive.”

The 25-year-old is a former Top 3 junior who was the 2016 girls’ doubles champion in Melbourne, alongside Tereza Mihalikova, but in 13 previous Grand Slam main draws she had never gone beyond Round 2.

In fact, she had never won a main draw match at the Australian Open, with all her 2nd-round showings coming at the US Open.

On the verge of breaking into the Top 50 for the first time, Kalinskaya suffered a significant setback last year when she was sidelined for 3 months after a leg injury in Rome, that kept her out of both Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

Although she is currently ranked 75, down from a career high of 51 in October 2022, she is now guaranteed to make her Top 50 debut next week.

“It felt amazing to pass two rounds in a Grand Slam, but to win so many matches is something special for sure,” Kalinskaya said in her on-court interview. “I had a tough first three rounds, so I can’t be nervous any more.”

Asked what she would have said if told ahead of the tournament that she would make the quarter-finals, Kalinskaya was coolly confident.

“I would believe it,” she replied. “I believe in myself.”

Zheng Qinwen dominated Oceane Dodin from the outset and secured her spot in the Last 8 with the loss of just 3 games on Monday night

© Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images

Kalinskaya will next face No 12 seed Zheng Qinwen from China, who blitzed her way into her second successive Grand Slam quarter-final on Monday night, when she raced past Frenchwoman Oceane Dodin for the loss of just 3 games.

The 21-year-old had to survive a dramatic deciding tiebreak against fellow Chinese Wang Yafan in the previous round, but was in full control from the word go this time against the World No 95, easing through 6-0 6-3 in just 59 minutes.

Zheng dropped 3 points behind her first serve, and struck 19 winners against an erratic Dodin, who never really looked comfortable at Rod Laver Arena, and was struggling with a left leg injury.

Now the only seed left in the top half of the draw, Zheng is the favourite to beat Kalinskaya when they square off in the quarter-finals on Wednesday as she bids to emulate her idol, Chinese former World No 2 Li Na, who won the Australian Open in 2014.

“I’m happy to reach the quarter-finals,” Zheng said. “Compared to the last match this was much shorter. I’m really happy to be here.

“Obviously it’s the second time [in a Grand Slam quarter-final]. I’ll have more experience. I’ll just try to tell myself ‘focus on the moment, don’t think too much’.

“Li Na told me last time, she gave me advice and said to me ‘Just play – don’t think too much.’”

In a contest between two big hitters, Zheng’s superior serve and control proved decisive, and a backhand winner down the line to break Dodin in the 2nd game set the tone.

It was 4-0 in just 18 minutes, and with only 24 minutes on the clock Zheng was sitting down having bagelled the 27-year-old from Lille.

It wasn’t until the 8th game of the match that Dodin got herself on the scoreboard, recognising the moment with a huge smile and raising both arms in celebration.

Overall, Zheng kept her unforced error count to 16, compared to Dodin’s 19, and while she landed only 44% of her first serves, it was enough to keep in control of most of her service games, except for a loose one midway through the second set.

Dodin was unable to protect her serve from Zheng’s aggressive tactics, despite faster average speeds on both her first and second deliveries, and the Chinese repeatedly deployed a one-two punch on return, pummelling her first stroke deep, which allowed her to put away the next forehand.

The Frenchwoman could only muster 50% of her first-serve points, and 33% behind her second serve.

Following Azarenka’s loss to Yastremska earlier in the day, a new Grand Slam finalist is now guaranteed from the top half of the draw.



1 Comment

  1. Steve

    Who is coaching Yastremska at the Australian Open?


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