Melbourne | Zheng wins and meets Li Na, as Azarenka ousts Ostapenko

The Australian Open prides itself as being Asia’s Grand Slam so it was fitting that two Chinese players would open play on Day 7 on Rod Laver Arena, with the great Li Na in attendance, when Zheng Qinwen battled past her compatriot Wang Yafan in a match breaker, while elsewhere Victoria Azarenka, who has won this championships twice, upset Jelena Ostapenko’s prospects in straight sets.

That was totally a surprise for me. She [Li Na] just went to me like this, say congratulations. I was feeling super happy to meet her, and have the chance to talk with her because I never talked with her in person. That was feeling really special for me... She said to me don't think too much, just keep simple. I think that's right now what I need to do as well, yeah. Zheng Qinwen

It is 10 years since Li Na’s historic win at Melbourne Park, and Zheng, the 21-year-old 12th seed, is drawing attention as she seeks to follow in the Chinese legend’s footsteps.

Zheng is now the favourite to reach the semi-finals in her wide open section of the draw, where Oceane Dodin saw off Clara Burel, 6-3 6-4, in a domestic tussle between two Frenchwomen out on Court 3 after the latter had felled World No 5 Jessica Pegula on Thursday.

China took centre stage and Zheng needed 2 hours and 40 minutes to make it past her countrywoman, Wang, 6-4 2-6 7-6[8] on Saturday, her power eventually getting her over the line, and there was a special treat after the match when she was congratulated by Li, who is in Melbourne to play in the legends event.

Li surprised Zheng by interrupting Eurosport’s interview, stunning the 21-year-old with a hug.

“That was totally a surprise for me. She just went to me like this, say congratulations,” Zheng told reporters. “I was feeling super happy to meet her, and have the chance to talk with her because I never talked with her in person. That was feeling really special for me.

“You know, I feel she’s much more beautiful than when I saw her on TV before,” Zheng added, laughing, having admitted in her on-court interview that she had watched Li’s 2014 final victory over Dominika Cibulkova 10 times.

Zheng and Li met for the first time years ago at an event during Wimbledon, but Saturday was the first time the two had ever spoken to each other.

“We don’t have each other’s WeChat, no phone calls,” Zheng said. “We met once before when I was a junior, but not single-to-single, face-to-face.

“I didn’t have the chance to talk with her, but today is the real first time we talk with each other.”

Li is still the only Chinese Grand Slam singles champion, having become the first Asian to claim the French Open title in 2011.


Zheng Qinwen, the 12th seed, won the tense match breaker against Wang Yafan to advance to the Last 16 in Melbourne

© Martin Keep/AFP via Getty Images

Zheng survived an outstanding challenge from 29-year old Wang, who had booked a place in her first Grand Slam 3rd-round after wins over Sorana Cirstea and Emma Raducanu.

The 12th seed looked in control of the match, but, after taking the first set, she fell behind 3-0 in the second.

“I think the baseline stroke of hers is one of the best, I really can say that,” Zheng said. “I just lost the second set. It was so fast like that, so I have to change my mindset in the third set.”

Zheng led 4-2 in the final set before Wang once again reeled her in, breaking the 21-year old as she served at 5-4 for the win.

The nip-and-tuck match tiebreak was decided in dramatic fashion, when Zheng won a 25-shot rally on her 2nd match point to claim the win.

“I just throw the racket like this when I won because usually I never do that,” Zheng said. “That was my honestly real reaction in the last point when I won, yeah.”

Zheng now is the highest-remaining seed left in her quarter, which was previously anchored by World No 3 Elena Rybakina and Pegula, with Dodin, 26th seed Jasmine Paolini from Italy and Russian Anna Kalinskaya left in the pack.

Paolini ended the run of Russia’s Anna Blinkova, who knocked out Rybakina in round 2, while Kalinskaya, another Russian, beat former AO finalist and US Open champion, Sloane Stephens, 6-7(8) 6-1 6-4.

Li’s advice to Zheng – “She said to me don’t think too much, just keep simple,” Zheng said. “I think that’s right now what I need to do as well, yeah.”


Two-time AO champion Victoria Azarenka loves playing Down Under and upset Jelena Ostapenko in straight sets on Saturday afternoon

© Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

In the second match on Margaret Court Arena, 18th-seed Azarenka once again claimed a spot in the Round of 16 by beating No 11 seed, Jelena Ostapenko, 6-1 7-5, after an hour and 23 minutes.

Their 3 prior matches had been tight encounters, and had gone Azarenka’s way, and she carried that edge into their latest contest.

In fact, Azarenka’s previous win over Ostapenko came just 2 weeks ago in Brisbane, but the Latvian rebounded by winning last week’s Adelaide title to re-enter the Top 10 for the first time since 2018.

Azarenka loves playing Down Under, and her latest win marks her 11th trip into the second week of the Australian Open, where she won her 2 Grand Slam titles in 2012 and 2013, and was a semi-finalist in Melbourne last year.

Her win over Ostapenko is her 50th career match-win here, the first of the 4 Grand Slam events where she has hit the 50-win milestone.

Azarenka bullied a quick break in the Latvian’s first service game, and cruised through the set from there, prevailing on 6 of Ostapenko’s 8 second-service points in the opening set.

Her return became even more important later on, when Ostapenko led 5-3 and served for the second set, prompting Azarenka to regain her heavy weight of shot to combat the Latvian’s deliveries.

It paid off and the Belarusian broke to pull back on serve, before marching to the 76th Top 10 win of her career, taking 5 games in a row while saving 2 break points with aces as she served for the match to close it out in straight sets.


Dayana Yastremska, a qualifier, made the Last 16 at the Australian Open with a 3-set win over Emma Navarro, the No 27 seed

© William West/AFP via Getty Images

Azarenka will now take on 23-year-old Dayana Yastremska from Ukraine for a spot in the quarter-finals, whom she leads 2-1 in their head-to-head record.

Yastremska moved into the Round of 16 at a Grand Slam event for the second time in her career with a 6-2 2-6 6-1 win over No 27 seed Emma Navarro from the USA in an hour and 46 minutes.

Navarro, last week’s Hobart champion, came into the John Cain Arena showdown on a 7-match winning streak, the 22-year-old American having been on a run over the last 12 months, during which time her ranking has sky-rocketed from No 148 to her current career-high of 26.

Yastremska, who cracked the Top 25 as a teenager, ended Navarro’s break-through run, following up her 1st-round win over 7th seed and reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova from the Czech Republic, is back in the second week of a major, matching her Round of 16 result from 2019 Wimbledon.

After splitting the first two sets, Yastremska broke for a 2-0 lead in the 3rd set with a powerful backhand winner down the line, and gritted out a tough game to consolidate for 3-0, which included 3 aces on deuce points, before cruising on to the win from there.

Yastremska said she battled neck pain but found a way to put it aside after the second set.

“To be honest, I told myself just don’t be too focused on your neck in the third set because it really takes my attention away,” Yastremska said after the match. “I just told myself ‘enjoy,’ and people are supporting you, so take the energy and give back the energy to them. I don’t know what to say. It’s just amazing. Nice emotions.”

The Ukrainian finished the match with 36 winners compared to Navarro’s 5.


Anna Kalinskaya took out Sloane Stephens in 3 sets on Saturday and plays Jasmine Paolini next

© Kelly Defina/Getty Images

Kalinskaya rallied after dropping a long first set against Stephens, and after the American had two break points in an opportunity to go up 5-3 in the third, the Russian fought back and held serve to tie the set at 4-4 before breaking, capping the game with a clean backhand winner.

Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion, saved 2 match points at 4-5, and had 2 break points to pull level before Kalinskaya ripped a backhand winner to close out the match.

The American had 33 unforced errors to only 15 for Kalinskaya as the big-hitting match saw 46 winners from the Russian and 44 from Stephens.

“I’m very happy that I’m in the fourth round,” Kalinskaya said, adding that her offseason preparation allowed her the confidence to compete in the year’s first major. “We practiced more details in the game. I think being at this level it’s very important to stay focused in the important points. So we’ve been focusing on the details.”

Kalinskaya moves on to face Paolini.


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