Melbourne: Zheng Qinwen shook off a sluggish start to outclass Russian Anna Kalinskaya 6-7(4) 6-3 6-1 on Wednesday and reach the semi-finals of the Australian Open for the first time where the Chinese 12th seed will take on Ukrainian qualifier Dayana Yastremska.
Kalinskaya appeared nervous in her first Grand Slam quarter-final as she gifted the opening break of the match with a double fault but Zheng returned the favour immediately and the duo were locked until the tiebreak after more shaky displays on serve.
US Open quarter-finalist Zheng came under pressure when she hit a forehand wide to hand Kalinskaya two opportunities to take the opening set and the Russian calmly finished it with a backhand winner.
“She played really good today, especially good with baseline strokes,” said Zheng, who can emulate her idol Li Na by winning the trophy at Melbourne Park.
“In the first set, we had a big good competition, the match was very tough for me. I just told myself, ‘stay focused, don’t think about the first. I’m so happy right now, really excited.” Zheng broke her 25-year-old opponent for a 5-3 lead in the next before levelling the contest at one set apiece playing top quality tennis and pounced again without losing a point in the third game of the decider.
Kalinskaya needed a medical timeout for a right leg problem after going a double break down but threatened a late fightback at deuce while down 4-1, but the 21-year-old Zheng maintained focus to pull away further and secure the victory.
“It’s the first time (in the semi-finals) for me,” Zheng said. “I’m really happy to be in the semis, especially with such a good performance like this.” Victory also meant the WTA’s most improved player of 2023 will break into the top 10 after the year’s first major.
“That’s good news for me, another motivation for me,” Zheng added. “Last year at the Australian Open I said I wanted to be top 10 and now I am.”
First women’s qualifier
Yastremska defeated Czech Linda Noskova 6-3 6-4 on Wednesday to book a semi-final spot, becoming the first women’s qualifier to reach the last four in Melbourne since the 1978 tournament.
Battling in 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) heat, the Ukrainian’s powerful forehand eventually overcame the 19-year-old Czech, who was the youngest player left in the draw.
Yastremska, 23, follows in the footsteps of Christine Dorey, the last qualifier to reach the Melbourne Park semis 45 years ago.
“I think it’s nice to make history because at that time I wasn’t born,” Yastremska said on court after the match.
“It’s next generation making history and I’m so happy, and tired.” The players traded breaks early in the first set, but it was Yastremska who took the lead in the eighth game when Noskova netted a backhand.
Despite failing to get nearly half her first serves in, the Ukrainian kept the pressure on with a string of forehand winners throughout the match.
Noskova failed to capitalise on a break point when she was down 5-3 and Yastremska wrapped up the first set in 36 minutes with another well-targeted forehand.
Both players went off court after the first set, escaping the heat, and Noskova had a long chat with her coach on her return.
The players were on level pegging throughout the second set until the seventh game when Yastremska locked it up on her third break point with a backhand winner that left Noskova stranded on the far side of the court.
She closed out the match on serve when Noskova’s backhand return hit the net, ending the Czech’s bid for her first tour singles title and becoming the first qualifier to reach this stage of a Grand Slam since Emma Raducanu won the US Open in 2021.
“I don’t really feel like I’m playing good, I just try to play like I can because I’m really tired,” Yastremska said.
“I’m trying to take the maximum that I can from myself and the rest is just fight.” The world No 93, who has already beaten two Grand Slam champions during the tournament, next faces either 12th seed Zheng Qinwen of China or Russian world No 75 Anna Kalinskaya, who play their quarter-final later on Wednesday.