Melbourne | Zheng comes from a set down to eliminate Kalinskaya

The last seed left standing in the top half of the Australian Open draw, Zheng Qinwen of China, came back from a set down to defeat Anna Kalinskaya of Russia, 6-7(4) 6-3 6-1, to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam singles for the first time in her career.

At the beginning of the first set I'm just thinking too much. That's why I lost the first set, because I got those early breaks. Then later on I'm not able to keep my serve. Of course that's one of my problems. So when I lost the first set directly, I tried to tell myself, 'Stay focused. Don't think too much. Just focus right now’. Zheng Qinwen

Zheng’s previous best performance in any of the 4 majors was a quarter-final appearance at the US Open in 2023.

On Wednesday night on Rod Laver Arena, the Chinese proved unstoppable, having previously beaten Ashlyn Krueger of the US, Britain’s Katie Boulter, her compatriot Wang Yafan and Oceane Dodin from France on her way to the Last 8.

“I’m just so happy and really excited, this is my first time and I’m really happy to be in the semi-finals,” said the 21-year-old Zheng, who will take on Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska for a place in the final on Thursday night.

Zheng is the 4th Chinese woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final, following Zheng Jie, Li Na, who won the Australian Open in 2014, and Peng Shuai.

Her win over Kalinskaya means she will be ranked inside the world’s Top 10 for the first time when the list is updated on Monday.

“That’s good news and another motivation,” she said, after being told by Jelena Dokic in the post-match on-court interview. “Last year at the Australian Open, I said I wanted to be in the Top 10, and one year later I’m here.”

Anna Kalinskaya started the better against Zheng Qinwen but lost after taking the first set in their quarter-final on Wednesday

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

Zheng shrugged off a shaky start, the 12th seed making a string of unforced errors in the first set, but she hit her groove midway through the second, striking 42 winners, including 10 aces, as she pulled away for victory in the decider after 2 hours and 20 minutes of play.

For a set and a half, though, it looked as if the occasion might prove too much for Zheng, who went into the match as the favourite against the 75th-ranked Kalinskaya, appearing in her first major quarter-final.

Two double-faults in the first game gave Zheng an early break, but Kalinskaya settled herself the better of the two, breaking straight back.

They traded breaks again midway through the opener, with Zheng making uncharacteristic mistakes from the baseline.

The pair held serve to reach the tiebreak, but it was Kalinskaya, who had beaten Sloane Stephens and Jasmine Paolini on her way to the Last 8, who proved the more solid again, taking it with a backhand winner to move ahead.

The errors continued to flow from the Zheng racket, but she held onto her serve as the second set reached 3-3, and from then, the tension disappeared from the 21-year-old’s shoulders, and her deliveries began to click just as her groundstrokes began to flow.

Zheng Qinwen's game clicked into place mid way through the second set and she didn't look back against Anna Kalinskaya on Wednesday night at Melbourne Park

© Graham Denholm/Getty Images

Now, more accustomed to her opponent’s game, Zheng won 3 straight games, and, leading 4-3, the Chinese broke the Russian again, and finished it off with an ace down the middle when serving for the set, to level the match at a set apiece.

Kalinskaya held to open the decider, but that was her last hurrah as Zheng shifted gears and stormed towards the finish line.

A backhand return winner gave her the break for 2-1, and a double-break put her completely in control at 4-1, when Kalinskaya took a medical timeout, stretching out her right hip, but it didn’t help, as Zheng fired 3 straight aces on her way to 5-1, and then thundered 2 big returns to finish off the match in some style.

“She played really good today, and the first set was big competition,” Zheng said. “I told myself to be focused and not think anymore about the first set.

“I lost the first set, and it was really, really difficult. I mean, the opponent, she’s playing really good. That was really tough match. So emotional. It’s more than just tennis on court.

“At the beginning of the first set I’m just thinking too much. That’s why I lost the first set, because I got those early breaks. Then later on I’m not able to keep my serve. Of course that’s one of my problems. So when I lost the first set directly, I tried to tell myself, ‘Stay focused. Don’t think too much. Just focus right now’.

“Because the first set already prove [that thinking] too much is not helping, and you can’t play your best tennis there. So I’m really happy that I’m able to change that and to win the match at the end.”

Zheng tallied 42 winners, including 10 aces, overall, compared to 18 from Kalinskaya, while they both scattered a flurry of unforced errors, the Chinese making 35 and the Russian producing 30.

It took Zheng Qinwen over 2 hours to get past Anna Kalinskaya into the Last 4 where she will meet Dayana Yastremska

© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Watched by the great Rod Laver himself from a seat in the front row of the stadium named after him, alongside Margaret Court, who holds the record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, Zheng was asked if she had noticed.

“Of course I know the guy, but I didn’t know he was watching,” Zheng said. “I’m only focused on the green ball and my opponent. But I’m really proud to have a legend come and watch me play. Thank you for that.”

Zheng and Yastremska will play each other for the first time for a place in the Australian Open final on Thursday night.

Rod Laver and Jayne Hrdlicka look on during the quarter-final singles match between Anna Kalinskaya and Qinwen Zheng on Wednesday night

© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images



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