Ukrainian teen who plays Serena next saw matchup coming

AP Photo

MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams’ next Australian Open opponent, 18-year-old Dayana Yastremska, feels as if she saw Saturday’s matchup coming a decade ago.

She tells the story of being at home in Ukraine at the age of 8 and watching on TV as Williams — whom she calls “a legend” — fell behind in a Grand Slam match. That was, understandably, distressing to the little fan. Dayana, who’d been taking tennis lessons since she was 4 1/2, decided Williams could use some help.

So the kid ran to her bedroom, grabbed a racket and resumed following along with the broadcast, pretending to hit the shots Williams needed to hit.

“She won a point. She won a game. She won a set. She won a match. I was screaming at the same time she was screaming. And when she won the match, I had in my thoughts that, ‘Well, I guess we won together. It’s our win,’” Yastremska said, laughing at the memory. “And then I had another thought that, ‘Maybe, one day I’m going to play (against) her in the big arena.’”

That’ll happen in the third round at Melbourne Park — in what’ll be only the fourth Slam match for the 57th-ranked Yastremska, who trains at Justine Henin’s tennis academy in Belgium.

Yastremska’s two wins this week are her first at this level and they came against 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur and No. 23 seed Carla Suarez Navarro.

It’ll be Slam match No. 379 for the formerly top-ranked Williams, who is 333-45 and already has 23 Grand Slam titles, including seven from the Australian Open alone.

Asked what she knows about Yastremska, who was born about eight months after Williams won her first major championship at the 1999 U.S. Open, the 37-year-old American responded that her coach would provide a scouting report.

“I’m going to just go out there and obviously take her extremely serious,” Williams said. “She’s here, made it this far, and she’s here to win.”

Saturday’s match won’t be their first face-to-face encounter, according to Yastremska.

She said the pair crossed paths in the locker room this week.

“I just say, ‘Hello,’ and ‘You have a great daughter, and I respect you a lot as a person, as a player.’ She told me, ‘Thank you so much. You’re so nice, so sweet,’” Yastremska recounted.

Just like any admirer getting the chance to meet an idol.

Now they’ll share a court with a fourth-round berth at stake.

“I always wanted to be like her. But getting older, I realized I have to (have) my own style,” said Yastremska, the junior runner-up at Wimbledon in 2016 and owner of one WTA title.

“It’s like a dream come true, so I’m going to try to (beat) her. I’m going to try to show my best tennis,” Yastremska said, then, thinking back to her 8-year-old self, added: “And maybe later, I’m going to tell her this story.”

Linette keeps getting better; into Australian Open semis

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports

MELBOURNE, Australia — Two days after advancing to her first Grand Slam tournament quarterfinal, unseeded Magda Linette went one better and is into the Australian Open semifinals.

The 30-year-old Linette beat Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 7-5, adding the former No. 1 to the list of top players she has beaten at Melbourne Park during this tournament.

Linette, who had lost seven of nine previous matches against Pliskova, had defeated Anett Kontaveit, Ekaterina Alexandrova and WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in successive rounds.

A player from Poland was favored to reach the latter stages of the tournament, but it was top-seeded Iga Swiatek that everyone would have expected – and not Linette.

“It’s so emotional I can’t really believe it,” Linette said. “I tried to stay composed and took my chances when I could.”

Linette will play No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka, who beat unseeded Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2 in a later quarterfinal. The women’s semifinals are scheduled for Thursday night.

Vekic, who had 13 double faults against Sabalenka, had a succinct appraisal of her serve: “I mean, it was all over the place. But I think mostly in the net.”

The other women’s semifinalists were determined on Tuesday. Two-time former Australian champion Victoria Azarenka will play Wimbledon titleholder Elena Rybakina for a chance to play in Saturday night’s final. Rybakina beat Swiatek in the fourth round.

Later Wednesday, the remaining men’s semifinalists will be determined. Unseeded Americans Ben Shelton and Tommy Paul play before nine-time champion Novak Djokovic takes on Andrey Rublev.

Djokovic will be looking to qualify for his 44th Grand Slam semifinal and a win in that match on Friday would advance him on Sunday night to his 33rd major singles final.

The other men’s semifinal on Friday will see third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas play Karen Khachanov.

Rybakina rules in Australian Open quarterfinal vs. Ostapenko

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports

MELBOURNE, Australia – Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina advanced to the Australian Open semifinals with a 6-2, 6-4 win over former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

The match on Rod Laver Arena featured a rare rain delay of about 20 minutes while the roof was closed. Rybakina led 3-1 and was holding a break point before the delay. On return, Ostapenko saved the first break point, but Rybakina broke on her next opportunity to go up 4-1 and won the first set 6-2.

In the second set, Ostapenko was up a break but Rybakina leveled with a break of her own. It came on her first break point when Ostapenko had been unable to convert four in the previous game.

Rybakina, who beat top-seeded Iga Swiatek in the fourth round, set up match points with aces, both of which were saved by Ostapenko. But she clinched the match with another ace, her 11th of the match and a tournament-leading 35 overall.

“I was nervous in the last game, but I managed my emotions and played very well.” Rybakina said. “The conditions were different after the roof was closed. But it can happen here, you never know, on the morning one weather and later it changes.”

Rybakina will play the winner of the night quarterfinal between American Jessica Pegula, at No. 3 the highest women’s seed remaining, and two-time champion Victoria Azarenka.

In men’s quarterfinals, 22-year-old American Sebastian Korda played the next match at Rod Laver Arena against No. 18-seeded Karen Khachanov. In a night quarterfinal, third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas plays Jiri Lehecka. The winners of those matches will play each other in the semifinals on Friday.