Ukrainian teenager Dayana Yastremska powered into the biggest final of her career on Friday following an intense victory over Aryna Sabalenka in Adelaide.
Yastremska recorded a 6-4 7-6(4) win over the world No.12, with her superior movement the decisive factor in a match-up between two players with incredible ball-striking abilities.
The victory is expected to boost the 19-year-old to a career-high ranking of No.21 on the eve of Australian Open 2020, and sets up a final in Adelaide against world No.1 Ash Barty, who beat in-form American Danielle Collins 3-6 6-1 7-6(5) in a thrilling encounter in front of a full house at Memorial Drive.
“I'm not that far from top 20. I was 22, then 24, now I'm 21. So I mean, I feel it's like same level (as the top players),” Yastremska said.
“For sure I get confidence before the Grand Slam, that's really nice. And I'm finding my game and getting the form before the Grand Slam ... I'm happy.”
Yastremska owns three career WTA titles, at International events in Hong Kong (2018) and Hua Hin and Strasbourg (in 2019).
Yet this marks the first time she has advanced to a Premier-level final.
Now working with credentialled coach Sascha Bajin, Yastremska improved her head-to-head record against Sabalenka to 3-0 after sealing victory in one hour and 44 minutes.
She next heads to Melbourne Park – where she reached the third round in 2019 – as the No.23 seed in a loaded section of the draw; after playing a qualifier in round one she could face Caroline Wozniacki in round two, 12th seed Johanna Konta in round three and Serena Williams in the last 16.
But first, a fourth career title beckons in Adelaide, if she can stop Barty.
"I played (against) both of them. I don't have the preference. I'm going to get ready for everyone,” said Yastremka, who beat Angelique Kerber and Donna Vekic in her previous matches.
"I'm pretty happy (to be in my first Premier final). Just very happy to be in the finals in the new season. It's really nice.
"I'm just doing my job; I just try to play my game and that's it. It's working.”
Barty was forced to recover from a set down to beat Collins for the third time, putting her one match win away from her first career tour-level title on Australian soil.
"It was probably my first real taste of some adrenaline late in matches. And that is what we're after, to try and practice those things as best we can," Barty said of her Australian summer.
"I felt like I did what I wanted to do well tonight and got over the line in the end."
Despite her loss to Yastremska, Sabalenka is rounding into form nicely ahead of Australian Open 2020.
She crushed Simona Halep in the previous round, belting 30 winners past the world No.3 in a masterful performance.
The Belarusian is playing with a bigger goal in her mind, after the tragic passing of her 43-year-old father in November during the off-season.
“I’m just trying to fight because my dad wanted me to be No.1," she said after her first-round win over Hsieh Su-Wei in Adelaide.
"I’m doing it for him so that’s what is helping me to be strong right now."
Sabalenka begins her campaign at Melbourne Park against former world No.6 Carla Suarez Navarro.