Even before the best tennis players had completed their preparations for the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, Dayana Yastremska was already fighting for her survival in the tournament. In the three qualifying rounds of the Australian Open, the 23-year-old fought his way through three tough three-set games against weak opponents. She was far from her best when she reached the peloton.
However, sometimes in tennis all that matters is survival. After surviving those pressure-packed qualifying rounds, Yastremska played with complete freedom against much taller opponents. On Wednesday, she continued her breakthrough with another fearless offensive display, defeating Linda Noskova 6-3, 6-4 and reaching her first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open.
In the wide open top half of the draw, either Yastremska or 12th seed Zheng Qinwen awaits a chance of a lifetime as they play for a place in the final. In the evening, Zheng stayed calm after a difficult opening set, defeated Anna Kalinskaya 6:7 (4), 6:3, 6:1 and also reached her first Grand Slam semi-final.
Ten years after Li Na became the first Asian player to win the Australian Open, the most inspiring moment of Zheng’s childhood, the year of Li’s return to Melbourne will see the 21-year-old Chinese player attempt to emulate her hero for the first time since her return later that same year to retire. Zheng will also move into the top 10.
After eight wins, the Ukrainian is the first qualifier in 46 years to reach the semi-finals of the Australian Open. Only once in the history of professional tennis has a qualifier won a singles Grand Slam title – the 23-year-old is now just two wins away from matching Emma Raducanu’s 2021 US Open triumph. Yastremska is a tireless offensive player who attacks the fences whenever possible. She was dangerous from the first round as she beat Marketa Vondrousova, the Wimbledon champion and seventh seed, 6-2, 6-1. After she prevailed over the in-form Emma Navarro, seeded 26th, she beat Victoria Azarenka, seeded 19th and two-time champion.
Once one of the most promising young players, Yastremska’s performance also signals her first significant success since she tested positive in January 2021 for a metabolite of mesterolone, an anabolic steroid drug derived from testosterone. Yastremska denied intentionally taking the substance. She was immediately given a temporary ban before her hearing.
Despite her status, Yastremska decided to fly to Australia during the 2021 edition, where players had to spend two weeks in quarantine in addition to training sessions. During her two weeks in her hotel room, Yastremska learned that her urgent request to have her temporary ban lifted had been rejected. The Ukrainian had to make the long journey home.
Five months after her interim ban began, the ITF announced that Yastremska had been cleared of the doping charges, finding that she had committed no fault or negligence. According to the independent tribunal’s written reasons, a heavily redacted document, Yastremska successfully argued that she had been contaminated with mesterolone by her then-boyfriend through “kissing” and other redacted activities hours before she took her anti-doping test.
There were still unanswered questions about the case, but in June 2022 The Telegraph was forced to publish an apology to Yastremska and her father, Oleksandr Yastremskyy, for an article published a month earlier titled: “Dayana Yastremska faces charges of attempted cover-up.” Doping allegations.”
As she was ranked in the top 30 at the time of her six-month provisional ban, returning to the sport and rebuilding her ranking proved extremely difficult. Yastremska soon left the top 100 and last year fell to his lowest ranking since the ban: 158. “I’ve had a lot of difficult situations and I don’t want to talk about them now,” Yastremska said on Wednesday. “Maybe I can explain it another time and the story will sound completely different. But right now I can say that I’ve just, I don’t know, relaxed. I don’t have much to say. Just relaxed and I try to have fun with what I do.”
For her efforts this week in Melbourne, Yastremska is expecting a return to the top 30 after the best two weeks of her career. On Thursday, however, she and Zheng will be playing for much more.