Melbourne | Zheng surges past Yastremska into AO Final

China’s No 1, Zheng Qinwen, surged into the first Grand Slam final of her career at the Australian Open on Thursday night, blasting past qualifier Dayana Yastremska from Ukraine, 6-4 6-4, after an hour and 42 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

It feels unbelievable! I’m super excited to have such a great performance today and arrive in the final. I think Dayana played unbelievable tennis. It’s hard to explain my feelings now. Thanks for all the support, and to all my team as well. Of course, we have been working hard, lots of effort on the tennis court and also outside with the fitness and the treatment. It’s the basic stuff, but little details help every day. Thanks again to my team – I can’t do it without you guys. Zheng Qinwen

Despite struggling with her first serve at times, the 12th seed sealed the win to become the first Chinese player to reach a major final since Li Na triumphed at AO 2014.

Supported by vocal fans, the 21-year-old, who began the tournament ranked World No 15, is guaranteed to crack The top 10 on Monday.

By advancing past Yastremska, Zheng booked herself a Saturday night clash against the defending champion, Aryna Sabalenka, who fought her way past reigning US Open champion Coco Gauff, also in straight sets, 7-6(2) 6-4.

The World No 2 from Belarus holds a 1-0 record against Zheng, and didn’t face a break point against the Chinese when they battled in the quarter-finals in New York last September.

Zheng overcame a nervy start to get past Yastremska, who reached a career high ranking of 21 four years ago, and came out of the blocks fast, breaking serve early for a 2-0 lead with her powerful baseline game, as the Chinese’s first serve went missing.

Having never played against each other before, though, and with both players into their first Grand Slam semi-final, the tension was there for all to see, and the Ukrainian inexplicably threw in 4 inopportune double-faults in the next game, and was broken straight back.

The right-handed 23-year-old became the first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since Britain’s Emma Raducanu in 2021, largely due to her clean ball striking, and her mobility around the court, but she became increasingly erratic as the set progressed, while Zheng remained in control and fended off further break point chances.

Yastremska took an off-court medical time-out midway through the set after visibly struggling with her movement, but she made a valiant attempt to turn the match around in the second from a break down.

Although Zheng had not beaten anyone inside the Top 50 to reach the Last 4, she broke serve to lead 4-3 after converting her 4th break point, and then, aided by winning 75% of her first serves and 8 winners, she closed out the set after 55 minutes at her first opportunity.


Qualifier Dayana Yastremska had her chances against Zheng Qinwen but the 12th seed prevailed in straight sets at Melbourne Park

© David Gray/AFP via Getty Images

The pair traded breaks at the start of the second, before Yastremska edged ahead 3-2 with some heavy hitting drawing unforced errors from Zheng, but back-to-back aces in the next game locked the contest at 3 games all.

A poor game by Yastremska followed to hand the initiative back to Zheng, who broke serve in the 7th game just as she had done in the opening set, and she conceded just 5 more points as she closed out the match with a service winner before realising the magnitude of her achievement.

“It feels unbelievable! I’m super excited to have such a great performance today and arrive in the final,” Zheng told the crowd. “I think Dayana played unbelievable tennis. It’s hard to explain my feelings now.

“Thanks for all the support, and to all my team as well. Of course, we have been working hard, lots of effort on the tennis court and also outside with the fitness and the treatment. It’s the basic stuff, but little details help every day. Thanks again to my team – I can’t do it without you guys.”

Yastremska, who came through 3 rounds of qualifying and beat Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova as well as former two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka, leaves with a cheque of almost a million Australian dollars.


Zheng Qinwen's serve was unreturnable towards the end of the second set on Thursday night

© William West/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese superstar Li Na famously won the Australian Open 10 years ago, and Zheng will now aim to follow in her footsteps, but she will start Saturday’s final as the underdog against defending champion Sabalenka.

The 21-year old has enjoyed a smooth rise up the rankings since starting her pro career in 2020, taking road trips to ITF tournaments across Europe as the tennis world came out of the Covid-19 shutdown.

In 2022, she emerged on to the main Hologic WTA Tour, and made her Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open, rising from No 143 to 25 over the course of the season.

In 2023, Zheng claimed her first 2 career WTA titles in Palermo and Zhengzhou, breaking into the Top 20 and being named the Most Improved Player of the Year in December’s WTA Awards.

Currently ranked 15, she is guaranteed to debut in the Top 10 in the next edition of the WTA rankings to be published on Monday.


A delighted Zheng Qinwen (R) surged past Dayana Yastremska and hopes to emulate the great Li Na by winning the final on Saturday against defending champion Aryna Sabalenka

© Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images


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