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Zheng Qinwen Reaches Australian Open Final vs. Champion Aryna Sabalenka

Qinwen Zheng of China celebrates match point in their semifinal singles match against Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine during the 2024 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 25, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Melbourne’s motto is four seasons in a day.

Beneath the closed roof of Rod Laver Arena, Zheng Qinwen calmly threw down thunder for a major breakthrough.

Channeling her inner chill, Zheng defeated Ukrainian qualifier Dayana Yastremska 6-4, 6-4 advancing to her maiden major final at the Australian Open.

“It feels unbelievable,” Zheng said. “I’m super excited to have such a great performance today and arrive in the final.

“It’s tough to explain my feelings now. Thanks for all the support and thanks to my team as well.”

Celebrating her happy days at the Happy Slam, the 21-year-old Zheng is the youngest Chinese to reach a Grand Slam singles final achieving the feat 10 years after her tennis hero, Li Na, beat Dominika Cibulkova to capture the 2014 AO championship.

Last week, Zheng met Li Na for the first time at Melbourne Park where her hero encouraged her to “keep it simple”. Prior to Novak Djokovic’s quarterfinal conquest of Taylor Fritz, the 10-time AO champion took time to chat with Zheng exhibiting his zen “chill” before a stress test that set an example for the semifinal debutant’s mental state.

“I really want to learn that chill from the top players, because I think that is what I miss, yeah. I mean, was really nice conversation with Novak,” Zheng said.

After dropping serve in her opening service game, Zheng settled in and saved five of the final six break points she faced winning 76 percent of her first-serve points and 50-percent of her second-serve points against damaging returner Yastremska.

The victory vaults Zheng to a career-high No. 7 in the live rankings and a meeting with big-hitting Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka in Saturday’s final.

Reigning champion Sabalenka stopped US Open champion Coco Gauff 7-6(2), 6-4 to become the first woman since Serena Williams in 2017 to reach back-to-back Melbourne finals.

The second-seeded Sabalenka snapped Gauff’s 12-match major winning streak scoring her 13th consecutive Australian Open victory as she stands within one win of becoming the first woman to successfully defend Melbourne since her compatriot, Victoria Azarenka, beat Li Na to do it back in 2013.

Sabalenka, who pounded 33 winners avenging her US Open final loss to Gauff, has won 26 of her last 27 sets in Melbourne Park. The world No. 2 has not dropped a set since she out-dueled Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the 2023 AO final.

Contesting her third major final in her last five Grand Slam appearances, Sabalenka surrendered just nine points on serve in her 6-1, 6-4 demolition of Zheng in their lone prior meeting in the 2023 US Open quarterfinals.

“I think her forehand is really heavy. Yeah, and she’s moving well also,” Sabalenka said of Zheng. “Fighting for every point. Yeah, I think her forehand is really her best shot.

“I would say forehand, it’s quite heavy. Yeah, she played really great tennis, putting her opponents under pressure, playing really aggressive tennis, and I think that’s why she’s — she will be top 10, right? That’s why she’s in top 10.”

Glancing at Zheng’s draw, you can diminish her result by pointing to the fact she’s yet to beat a Top 50-ranked opponent en route to the AO final. However, Zheng continues an excellent start to the season, raising her record to 8-1.

Playing with poise and closing power against explosive Yastremska, Zheng has now won 16 of her last 18 matches entering the final with her lone losses in that span coming to world No. 1 Iga Swiatek and Brazilian lefty Beatriz Haddad Maia.