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Queen victorious: Zheng to meet Sabalenka in AO 2024 decider

  • Gill Tan

Zheng Qinwen is edging closer to earning her first Grand Slam crown.

Dubbed by some of her fans as Zheng “Queen” Wen, the 12th seed surged into the first Grand Slam final of her career at Australian Open 2024, blasting past qualifier Dayana Yastremska 6-4 6-4 on Thursday night.

Zheng sealed victory in an hour and 42 minutes, becoming the first Chinese player to reach a major final since Li Na triumphed at AO 2014.

MORE: Zheng v Yastremska match stats

“It feels unbelievable,” said Zheng, who is guaranteed to crack the top 10 on Monday.

“I’m super-excited to have such a great performance today and arrive in the final. That’s my dream since I was a kid." 

Zheng's magical Melbourne fortnight has her one win away from Grand Slam glory

Zheng said that breaking through in Melbourne, where Li made history as the first Asian woman to win a major, made the achievement even sweeter.

“Can't be more special than here in Australian Open,” she smiled. “I’m really happy, but I know there is still another fight to go.”

The 21-year-old, who thanked her vocal fans for their support and flag-bearing at Rod Laver Arena, is the youngest Chinese player to make a major final by quite a margin, as Li reached her first final at AO 2011, just before her 29th birthday.

MORE: AO 2024 women's singles draw

Zheng also inked her name in tennis history as the second women’s player in the Open Era to reach an AO final by defeating six unseeded opponents after Arantxa Sanchez Vicario did likewise in 1995, and third to tread that path at any major, after Sanchez Vicario did the same at Wimbledon 1996 and Martina Hingis at Wimbledon 1997.

The 12th seed, who hadn’t previously faced Yastremska, credited the Ukrainian’s strong baseline game, though her rival often struggled to cope with heavy spin from Zheng's forehand.  

BONUS: Download your copy of the Australian Open 2024 Official Program

Appearing in her first major semifinal against an opponent in the same unchartered territory, Zheng was broken in her opening service game, but immediately recaptured the deficit, courtesy of four double faults from her rival.

Yastremska, the former world No.21, spent roughly four hours more than Zheng on court during her AO 2024 campaign – including qualifying matches – and the accumulated exertion appeared to take a toll on her body.

After Zheng broke to take a 4-3 lead, Yastremska took an off-court medical time-out to address abdominal pain.

Yastremska battled the pain barrier after a first-set medical time-out

Though the Ukrainian had a chance to even the score when she returned, Zheng snuffed it out to consolidate the break, then showed no nerves as she served to close out the opening set two games later.

Breaks were exchanged early in the second set, in part because Zheng’s first serve fell below 40 per cent. But the Chinese seized an opportunity to break to love in the seventh game, and from there, regained rhythm.

Without a flicker of doubt, the right-hander slammed an unreturnable serve down the ‘T’ on her first match point.

Though Zheng struck just 15 winners, her efforts to dictate play forced 33 errors from Yastremska’s racquet.

The straight-sets triumph meant Zheng booked a clash against defending champion Aryna Sabalenka, who fought past reigning US Open champion Coco Gauff in straight sets earlier on Thursday night.

The second seed, who will be favoured by pundits to retain her crown, has a 1-0 record against Zheng, and didn’t face a break point against the Chinese star when they battled in the quarterfinals of the US Open in September.

Sabalenka revealed the duo practice together regularly, and hit at Melbourne Park before AO 2024 began.

“She played really great tennis, putting her opponents under pressure, playing really aggressive tennis, and I think that's why she will be [in the] top 10,” Sabalenka said.

Zheng described her 25-year-old opponent-to-be as one of the biggest hitters on tour.

“She’s a really complete player,” she said. “The final will be really competitive.”

When she steps out to do battle at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night, Zheng said a succinct piece of advice from Li will linger: “Don't think too much. Just go for it.”

It's a mantra that has served her well through six matches so far at Melbourne Park.