Prior to the top tennis players completing their preparations for the initial major tournament of the year, Dayana Yastremska was already battling to continue in the competition. In the three qualifying rounds of the Australian Open, the 23-year-old persevered through three challenging three-set matches against lesser opponents. She did not perform at her peak as she advanced to the main draw.
At times in the sport of tennis, survival becomes the top priority. After successfully navigating the high-stakes qualifying rounds, Yastremska has been able to play with complete abandon against much tougher opponents. On Wednesday, she continued her impressive streak with a bold performance of aggressive tennis, dominating Linda Noskova 6-3, 6-4 to secure her first-ever semi-final appearance at the Australian Open.
In the upper bracket of the tournament, Yastremska and Zheng Qinwen, the 12th seed, have a chance to seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as they compete for a spot in the final round. Later in the day, Zheng showed composure after a challenging first set to defeat Anna Kalinskaya 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-1 and earn her first semifinal appearance in a grand slam.
Ten years after Li Na made history as the first Asian to win the Australian Open, fellow Chinese player Zheng, now 21, will aim to follow in her footsteps during Li’s return to Melbourne for the first time since her retirement. Zheng is also expected to break into the top 10 rankings.
The Ukrainian has achieved the impressive feat of becoming the first qualifier in 46 years to reach the semi-finals of the Australian Open after winning eight matches. This is a rare accomplishment in professional tennis, with only one other qualifier ever winning a singles grand slam title. At just 23 years old, Yastremska is now only two wins away from potentially mirroring Emma Raducanu’s victory at the 2021 US Open. Known for her aggressive style of play, Yastremska has been a formidable opponent since the beginning of the tournament, defeating top players like Marketa Vondrousova, Emma Navarro, and Victoria Azarenka.
Previously considered a rising star in the world of tennis, Yastremska’s recent performance indicates her first notable comeback since testing positive for a metabolite of mesterolone, a medication derived from testosterone, in January 2021. Yastremska denied intentionally consuming the banned substance and was subsequently given a temporary suspension until her hearing.
Despite being in a high position, Yastremska chose to travel to Australia for the 2021 event, which required players to undergo a two-week quarantine period in addition to their training. While confined to her hotel room for those two weeks, Yastremska received the news that her requests to lift her temporary ban had been rejected. As a result, she had to make the lengthy trip back to her home country.
After five months of being suspended, the ITF declared that Yastremska was not guilty of doping and had not acted negligently. The independent tribunal’s written explanation, which had parts removed, revealed that Yastremska was able to prove that her former boyfriend had unknowingly contaminated her with mesterolone through physical contact, including kissing, just before she took her anti-doping test.
There were remaining doubts about the case, however, in June 2022, The Telegraph was compelled to issue an apology to Yastremska and her father, Oleksandr Yastremskyy, for an article published a month prior titled: “Dayana Yastremska accused of trying to hide doping allegations.”
After being among the top 30 players, Yastremska faced a six-month provisional ban which made it challenging for her to return to the sport and improve her ranking. As a result, she dropped out of the top 100 and her ranking reached its lowest point since the ban, at 158 last year. Yastremska stated on Wednesday that she has faced many difficulties, but she does not want to discuss them at the moment. She hopes to explain her story in the future, which will give a different perspective. For now, all she can say is that she relaxed and is trying to enjoy her current endeavors.
Yastremska’s performance in Melbourne this week has earned her a spot in the top 30, marking the best two weeks of her career. However, on Thursday, both she and Zheng will have the opportunity to play for even greater achievements.