Published: 09:23, January 26, 2024 | Updated: 09:49, January 26, 2024
China's Zheng reaches 1st Grand Slam final at Australian Open
By Xinhua

Zheng Qinwen of China celebrates after defeating Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine in semifinal match at the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, Jan 25, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

MELBOURNE - China's top-ranked player Zheng Qinwen booked a mouth-watering Australian Open women's singles final against defending champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus as she eyes a maiden Grand Slam title after blasting past qualifier Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine here on Thursday.

The 12th seed Zheng is closing in on ending a decade-long title drought in Grand Slam singles for Chinese players after a 6-4, 6-4 win in one hour and 42 minutes.

Her idol Li Na is the only Chinese player to have won a Grand Slam singles title, having famously triumphed at Roland Garros in 2011 before lifting the trophy at the Australian Open exactly a decade ago.

"It feels unbelievable. I'm super excited to have such a great performance. It's tough to explain my emotions right now," said Zheng after her first Grand Slam semifinal.

The 21-year-old Zheng started warm favorite but was wary against No 93 Yastremska, whose giant-killing run in Melbourne included reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic and two-time former tournament winner Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

After a see-saw start, the Ukrainian was in distress and clutching at her stomach muscle after running for a forehand. She needed a medical timeout after the seventh game, but continued as Zheng took control to take out the first set.

Zheng Qinwen of China plays a backhand return to Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine during their semifinal match at the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia,  Jan 25, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

Zheng gained a stranglehold when she broke in the third game of the second set, but failed to capitalize as the unpredictable contest continued. Zheng raised her intensity and crushed Yastremska's resistance to clinch victory on serve as she raised her arms aloft and let out a roar in celebration.

"For sure, the feeling was incredible to arrive at my real first Grand Slam final. That's my dream since I was a kid. So right now for sure I'm really happy, but I know there is still another fight to go. I'm trying to control my emotion right now," Zheng said at a post-match conference.

Zheng has impressively built on a breakout season last year, but her quest for a first Grand Slam crown will have to go through the formidable presence of Sabalenka, who has not lost a set in the tournament.

"I'm sure the final will be really competitive because I think Sabalenka, she's one of the, I would say, most big hitters right now in the tour. She got the most big serve, most big forehand, big backhand. She's really complete player. I haven't faced big seeded in all the past round and she will be the first one I will face. So let's see what's gonna happen in the final there," she added.

Sabalenka had to fend off a determined challenge from Gauff, but she relentlessly attacked her serve which cracked in the ninth game. The Belarusian calmly closed it out to become the first women's player since Serena Williams in 2016 and 2017 to reach back-to-back finals in Melbourne.