Yastremska v Zheng, Sabalenka beats Gauff: Australian Open semi-finals – live | Australian Open 2024

Key events

*Yastremska 4-6 3-4 Zheng A double hands over 0-15 and now it’s Yastremska changing her racket, for all the good it does her; Zheng does really well to squash-shot a get, and a netted riposte means 0-30. From this position last service-game, Yastremska managed to hold through deuce, but a forehand that goes well long means she’s three break points to save before she can think about that. And she cannot! Zheng thrashes away from the back, eventually elicits the error with a forehand to the corner, and she breaks again! She’s two holds away from the final!

Yastremska 4-6 3-3 Zheng* Zheng quickly makes 30-0 then Yastremska and a ball kid remove an insect; an ace follows, then another, and that was an excellent hold, pressure switching back to the qualifier. Can she ride it?

*Yastremska 4-6 3-2 Zheng A long backhand gives Zheng 0-15, a forehand looped wide 0-30. Yastremska, though, does well to make 30-all, a decent second serve and that forehand doing the damage then, when Zheng looks to have snatched control of the next rally, a forehand down and on to the line raises game point. Not for long, a brutal inside-out forehand earning deuce, and both players are throwing hands now; I think we’re seeing the highest-quality tennis of the match. And it’s Yastremska who sees out the game, nudging ahead in the set, her injury apparently resolved, at least for now.

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Yastremska 4-6 2-2 Zheng* Another quality forehand from Zheng lands deep and Yastremska can’t reply, but chasing another ball out wide, she again finds a decent shot on the run for 15-all, then hits the top of the net off a backhand and watches as the ball leaps over it and drops; pressure for Zheng! And a really good forehand return raises two break-back points – that’s great work – but the first is burnt by a mishit forehand return, the second by an overhit forehand return. She’ll be extremely unhappy with that because the ball was there for her, but she doesn’t dwell on it, creaming forehand return cross-court for a winner … but Zheng quickly retrieves deuce. Yastremska, though, is going for everything now a backhand return this time, sent inside-out, means a fourth break-back point … and another good return forces the Chinese to net! Well done Dayana Yastremska! She did not wait to be asked there, and there’s her reward. But is that a sustainable strategy over the course of a match?

Dayana Yastremska breaks the Zheng serve to level up the second set at 2-2. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

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*Yastremska 4-6 1-2 Zheng Zheng scurries out of court to direct a decent forehand back over the net, and Yastremska nets, then again on the backhand when Zheng again hits decent length; 0-30, and danger. Ach, and a second serve sits up pleasing for punishment and Zheng, who reads it, obliges, zetzing a winner down the line to raise three break points. Yastremska, though, has saved that many before … but this time she can only manage one, Zheng then landing a gorgeous forehand return onto the baseline to elicit a further netted riposte. If she can refrain from getting too nervous, she might run away with this set.

Yastremska 4-6 1-1 Zheng* Between sets, I wondered if Zheng might run away with it because her momentum is burgeoning, so I’m pleased Yastremska held easily because a thriller is preferable. Zheng, though, powers down an ace for 30-0, and from there she closes out in short order. I might be wrong, but it feels like at some point, Zheng will break.

*Yastremska 4-6 1-0 Zheng Zheng’s forehand is coming to define this match and she uses it to send Yastremska out wide, then cleans up down the line for 0-15 and, at 15-all, three more shots of quality force her opponent to net. Zheng is much the better player now, but Yastremska finds a decent serve and even better forehand clean-up, banging a service-winner down the T to raise game-point; another big first serve seals a crucial hold.

We go again!

Zheng also nips off and she looks the likelier currently, a bit less wild. But the closer she gets to the final, the more intense the pressure will get, and we’ve no idea how she might react to that.

Yastremska departs again, but this time, we’re told, just to change clothes.

Qinwen Zheng takes the first set against Dayana Yastremska 6-4

Yastremska 4-6 Zheng* Zheng badly needs some first serves and she gets one, but Yastremska responds with a fine return that eventually earns her the point having tipped the rally in her favour. So Zheng changes racket – for the second time – and a netted backhand gives her 15-all. This is so tense, Yastremska is looking to attack pretty much everything, but she can’t get close to an ace down the middle … and when another huge delivery arrives at 30-all, it too is too good, raising set point for Zheng. She doesn’t like her first ball-toss, goes again and is conservative, middle of the box, but a forehand towards the corner forces Yastremska to go for a big riposte on the run, and her attempted cross-court winner flies just wide. That’s set one to Zheng and, though neither player is playing all that well, she’s been the more solid of the two.

Qinwen Zheng takes the opening set.
Qinwen Zheng takes the opening set. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

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*Yastremska 4-5 Zheng Yup, a forehand winner then another brute on to the line make 30-0, a netted return follows, and two great backhands set up a drop of latent beauty. That’s a splendid hold, and Zheng, who’d do well to keep her opponent moving, will have to serve the set out.

Yastremska 3-5 Zheng* I guess it’ll take the rest of this set for any painkillers that may’ve been taken to kick in, but Zheng might be a little stiff having waited around … and she loses the first point of her consolidation game. But at 30-15, Yastremska comes into unleash a backhand … which goes into the net and elicits a grimace – of pain not regret, I think. However a double gives her a sniff at 40-30, a weak second serve receives the treatment … then she stretches out wide and marmalises a forehand winner down the line! Injury? What injury?! Zheng, though, does brilliantly to stay in the next rally, a fantastic forehand get landing on the line and forcing her opponent to net then, on advantage, a fine dipping backhand catches Yastremska coming in, and that’s the consolidation. The Ukrainian will now serve to stay in the set; let’s hope that her body allows her to do so properly.

Dayana Yastremska
Dayana Yastremska seems to moving well enough after the medical timeout. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

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Yastremska returns, feeling herself intercostally, and let’s hope she’s OK.

Meantime, we got you.

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*Yastremska 3-4 Zheng Zheng’s feeling better now, a big return then, from mid-court, a table-tennis inside-out forehand making 15-0, then a glorious backhand cross, on the run, brings 0-30. Yup, this is terrific stuff from Zheng, whose forehand controls the next rally, a succession of balls pasted into corners till Yastremska can’t take any more, netting to cede three break points. But two are quickly burned, the second – a long return – a really poor shot given she was right there, and excellent second serve puts paid to the third, Zheng netting in response. She soon makes advantage, though, and coming in Yastremska massively overhits – pressure does funny things – and Zhrng leads by a break. But what’s this? Yastremska has some kind of stomach situation, calling for the trainer and taking a medical timeout; let’s hope she’s OK. Thing is, any kind of muscular situation can’t be resolved here – she either takes a painkiller and hopes, tries to battle through, or calls it quits. The latter options seems unlikely, but she leaves the court to receive treatment and when she returns, she’ll still be down a break at the business end of this first set

Dayana Yastremska receives medical attention courtside
Dayana Yastremska receives medical attention courtside with what looks like an abdominal injury. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

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Yastremska 3-3 Zheng* Zheng twice goes long, and playing like this, neither of these has a chance against Sabalenka. But as we know, sport isn’t like that because people aren’t like that, and Zheng takes hold of this game, turning up the forehand aggression to turn 0-30 into 40-30, and a netted return secures the hold.

Qinwen Zheng serves to her opponent Dayana Yastremska
Zheng levels up the set at 3-3. Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

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*Yastremska 3-2 Zheng Yastremska will be feeling it, having sent down four doubles in the last game – an entire game of doubles – but she quickly makes 30-0, Zheng missing narrowly when given a second serve to attack. The next rally is the longest of the match so far, Yastremska’s power decisive with Zheng unable to force her wide enough, and a return larruped long nudges the qualifier back in front. Both players are still searching for consistency.

Yastremska 2-2 Zheng* More like it from Zheng, whose serve is working now – or at least works in this game – and she holds to love.

*Yastremska 2-1 Zheng Yastremska opens the game with a double, then a nice, deep return persuades her to err on the forehand. Another double follows, Gauff-style, and at 0-40 is all that work set to be wasted? Well, Zheng goes long on the return, can get nowhere near an ace down the T, and though she does get racket to another serve into the same area, it’s only the frame so we’re at deuce. A long return then hands over advantage – surely Zheng should just’ve got that ball into court – but Yastremska cant close out, disbursing a third double of the game before netting; here comes a fourth break point. And this time, there’s no first serve to help save it, instead a fourth double putting as back on serve. Both players are dead nervous, neither yet settled.

Yastremska 2-0 Zheng* Apparently stranded at the net having assaulted a second serve, Yastremska helps an overhead over the net for 0-15; that forehand we talked about soon makes 15-all. But Zheng’s second delivery might be a problem – another one sits up, and is duly punished back past her, cross-court. Another then allows Yastremska to seize control of the next point, two further backhands raising two break points, but Zheng makes deuce … only to net a backhand and cede another. Again, she saves it, but double means she faces a fourth, and the nerves’ll be a-jangling … but Yastremska lands a great return, plays another goodun, comes in … and from mid-court, nets a backhand with loads of space to hit. She doesn’t linger on the disappointment, though, an inside-out backhand winner too good – she’s not waiting to be asked here, attacking whenever possible – and another backhand, on to the baseline, gives her the immediate break. Yastremska is clearly the better and more confident player – for now.

*Yastremska 1-0 Zheng Yastremska begins with a service winner, and a poor return followed by a netted backhand give her 40-0. But a much better hit, a forehand that lands near the line, announces Zheng’s presence in the match, then another from out wide and suddenly there’s a bit of pressure. Or not! An ace out wide, and Yastremska has her hold.

Dayana Yastremska
Dayana Yastremska opens with a service hold. Photograph: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

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And play, Yastremska to serve.

Here come our players!

I’ve not a clue what’s going to happen in this second match, but I’ve a sneaky feeling for Yastremska, who I think has a little more variety to her game than Zheng and probably feels under less pressure. Zheng, though, has been serving nicely, and if her forehand is working, she’ll be hard to beat.

Coming up next: Dayana Yastremska (Q) v Qinwen Zheng (12)

I guess it’s my unfortunate duty, at this point, to note that, earlier in the competition Sablenka was asked about the Tour Finals moving to Saudi, saying this about playing in Saudi:

It was an amazing experience. I expected something different. They treated us really well. It was really amazing atmosphere on the stadium. People really like sports there. They really like tennis. The atmosphere was incredible. The level of hospitality was definitely way, way, way better than it was in Cancun. Yeah, I’m happy to go there.”

Sabalenka says she’s been focusing on herself, and new Gauff would make her play lots of extra balls. She thanks the crowd who, having previously not supported her, now do. She really enjoys playing Gauff as win or lose, the matches are great – cut to a morose her warming down on the bike – as it’s always a challenge.

Jelena Dokic, performing the interview, then namechecks Billy-Jean and Evonne Goolagong Cawley on the 50th anniversary of her win here; Sabalenka says it’s a privilege to play in front of them, then signs a towel to be auctioned for a domestic violence charity and offers another one; she’s thanked for her kindness and compassion.

Gauff departs and will be disappointed having been a way off her best. But she’ll also know she was well-beaten by a batter player, and will need to think again before they meet next. I’m absolutely certain she will, though, and this has the makings of a very serious rivalry.

Aryna Sabalenka (2) beats Coco Gauff (4) 7-6(2) 6-4

Gauff (2)6-7 4-5 Sabalenka* Gauff has a look at second serve, but can only loop a return that begs to be assaulted at the net, and Sablenka doesn’t disappoint. Again, though, she misses her first delivery and chokes through the second, checking her swing for a dribbled double into the net … only to retaliate with an ace! That’s great stuff, but then having sent Gauff out wide, she needlessly overhits her putaway … but a netted return raises match point! Sabalenka goes for the big T serve … nets … but a mahoosive backhand gives her control of the rally … but then dispatched to the forehand corner, Gauff devastates a winner down the line to the backhand for deuce. No matter, an ace raises a second match point, and this time a serve out wide is too good, the riposte tudding into the root of the net, and the champ is into her second straight AO final, this time without losing a set. She looks absolutely magnificent – not all the time, but for enough time – and I fear for whoever has the misfortune of meeting her next.

The players embrace at the net as Sabalenka progresses to the final on Saturday.
The players embrace at the net as Sabalenka progresses to the final on Saturday. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

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*Gauff (2)6-7 4-5 Sabalenka Gauff slaps a backhand wide for 15-all, faults, and you fear for her here … all the more so when she pushes another second serve into the middle of the box; it sits up, and Sabalenka spanks a dismissive backhand winner. And, er gulp: again, she’s to rely on her second serve … and this time she goes for it, murdering an ace down the T for 3o-all! Her next delivery is a goodun, forcing Sabalenka to chase out wide … whereupon she uncorks a sizzling forehand return cross-court for a gargantuan winner and break point. Gauff saves it with a winner of her own, but an error hands over advantage, and is the match here? A serve into the net means trouble, Sabalenka’s return goes deep, and though it’s not a winner, the pressure tells, Gauff flaying a backhand long and wide. That’s been in the post all set, and Sabalenka will shortly serve for the match; can she hold it down? Can Gauff turn her back into old her?

Gauff (2)6-7 4-4 Sabalenka* Sabalenka’s had chances this set but played poorly on break point, and suddenly a netted backhand means she’s down 0-30. A fantastic second serve out wide follows, though she hesitates before her clean-up and flicks the top of the net; she’s feeling it out there. But that forehand is a helluva weapon, switching momentum in the next rally, before finishing it with a yell; 30-all. Further immense hitting, though, finishes the game in short order, and Sabalenka remains the better, more confident player – though we, and they, know how quickly that can change.

*Gauff (2)6-7 4-3 Sabalenka Gauff goes long and will be feeling it, because she knows any slip-up takes her close to the end. And Sabalenka knows it too, following a Gauff error for 0-15 by wasting another meek second serve via booming backhand; Gauff quickly makes 30-all. But then, caught by a ball which lands close to the baseline forcing her to crouch to reply – not for the first time, and that must be tiring – she nets and is break-point down. A rushed backhand, though, hands her deuce, an ace down the T makes advantage, and this time Sabalenka doesn’t have her way with a second serve, Gauff doing superbly to hold on for 4-3. She’s showing plenty of moxie here, but can she find just a little more magic?

Coco Gauff is holding on in the second set.
Coco Gauff is holding on in the second set. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

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Gauff (2)6-7 3-3 Sabalenka* Both players are holding nicely now, Sabalenka making 30-0 with backand and service winners … but at some point, the nerves will again kick in. Not now, though, Sabalenka responding to a Gauff winner with a point of frankly despicable power for 40-15, and a return loops long, we’re back level in set two.

*Gauff (2)6-7 3-2 Sabalenka So far, it’s been Sabalenka as the protagonist, the majority of points decided by what she does. Gauff, though, might just be building confidence, an ace giving her 40-0, and she even closes out with a second-serve point, a netted return sealing the deal. But does she have a tactic to up the pressure when receiving?

Gauff (2)6-7 2-2 Sabalenka* However solid she becomes, Sabalenka and her opponents will always suspect that a collapse is possible, but she’s looking solid out there now – though she stands on her strings to loosen them in between points. She plays another decent game, holding to love, and even finishes it with a stretch-volley; she’ll be feeling good about that.

Aryna Sabalenka plays a volley winner
Aryna Sabalenka reaches down low for a volley winner at the net. Photograph: William West/AFP/Getty Images

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*Gauff (2)6-7 2-1 Sabalenka Gauff could really use a comfy hold, ideally with some first serves landed, and that’s what she gets – as much because Sabalenka misses than because she hits, but in the circumstances, she’ll take it.

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