Australian Open: Novoska-Yastremska Match Reflects A Refreshing Change In Women’s Game

Dayana Yastremska (photo: Tennis Australia/Vince Caligiuri)

UMELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 24, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Neither Linda Noskova nor Dayana Yastremska, who faced off in the quarterfinal round of the Australian Open Wednesday afternoon, had ever reached the last eight of a major until now.

With the elimination of so many of the top seeds from the women’s draw – including No. 1 Iga Swiatek whom Noskova upset 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the third round – it was anyone’s guess who would prevail between the 50th-ranked 19-year-old Czech and the 23-year-old Yastremska of Ukraine, a qualifier ranked 93rd, who upset three seeds (No. 7 Marketa Vondrousova, No. 27 Emma Navarro and, most recently, No. 18 Victoria Azarenka), two of them former major champs, in her Australian journey to the last eight.

Before taking the Rod Laver Arena court on a warm, Australian summer afternoon (26 degrees Celsius, 79 degrees Fahrenheit), Noskova, the youngest women’s quarterfinalist since Agnieszka Radwnska, said of Yastremska: “I think she’s playing great. I think she’s more of an aggressive tennis player. So, I guess we won’t have a lot of rallies, but I think that I will just have to be prepared for anything.”

As it happened, Noskova was right in her assessment of her opponent. Yastremska’s dream run Down Under will extend to Thursday’s semifinals — her first major semifinal and biggest result of her young career — after she scored her eighth straight win (three in qualifying and five in the main draw) by defeating Noskova, 6-3, 6-4, in an hour and 18 minutes.  Yastremska took advantage of an early service break and won five of the last six games of the opening set, then was steady the rest of the way.

Throughout, the Odessa native proved to be the steadier and more aggressive player. She won 76 percent of her first-serve points, hit 19 winners to 23 unforced errors and broke Noskova’s serve three times as well as her Czech opponent’s heart. Yastremska, who benefited from 21 unforced errors by Noskova, outpointed her 64-52. She put a lot of trust in her game and it paid off handsomely.

Noskova buried her face in a towel as she walked off teary-eyed, thinking what might have been. However, she proved her mettle earlier in the Australian fortnight against Swiatek on one of the sport’s biggest stages. Noskova will be a player to watch out for as the 2024 season develops.

Meanwhile, Yastremska will play No. 12 seed Zheng Qinwen of China, who defeated No. 75 Anna Kalinskaya of Russia, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-1, for a spot in the championship final.

According to the WTA, Yastremska is the lowest-ranked player in 40 years to reach the Australian Open semifinals (excluding Justin Henin, who reached the semifinals as an unranked player with a wild card in 2010), and just the second qualifier after Christine Dorey in 1978. She’s also the first qualifier to advance to a major semifinal since Emma Raducanu at the US Open in 2021.

During her on-court interview, Yastremska was reminded of her historic achievement in becoming the first qualifier since 1978 to make the Australian Open semifinals. She replied: “I think it’s nice to make history because at that time I still wasn’t born. I was born in 2000. So it’s the next generation. I’m super happy. I’m tired, but really happy (laughs).

Later, in her news conference, Yastremska was asked if she envisioned in qualifying going as fas as she has. Her reply was simple yet honest. “I didn’t think about it. I came here, and I was just focusing on playing each match, on improving. I was working on some things that is a little bit, like, personal, you know. It was more associating with my head and with the way I feel on court. I wasn’t really putting the goal, you know, to go quarters, fourth round, semis or whatever. I was just trying to enjoy playing here.”

Around Melbourne Park

Although mercurial Aussie Nick Kyrgios has been absent from the Australian Open men’s draw due to injury, he’s been omnipresent at Melbourne, contributing to Australian, European and U.S. television broadcasts. On Wednesday, he shared the ESPN booth with John and Patrick McEnroe for Novak Djokovic‘s quarterfinal victory over Taylor Fritz. Immediately after, he was court side to interview Djokovic. A bromance ensued between the two.

Wednesday’s Australian Open results

Thursday’s Australian Open order of play

By the numbers

“Quotable …”

“I think it’s just a tennis match, you know. I’m here to grow, to learn, to be better. Yeah, very proud of myself. I won for myself today, and I think it’s the most important thing. It’s just the beginning of the season. Looking forward for what’s ahead.

“Yeah, great match with Coco today. Another fight (smiling). Unfortunately, couldn’t get a win today, but played a very, very good tournament. Yeah, moving on. It’s tennis (smiling).

— No. 37 Marta Kostyk of Ukraine, during her post-match news conference, after losing her quarterfinal match to Coco Gauff on Tuesday.