Ukraine star defends ’emotional and confused’ teen over controversial handshake with Russian rival
Dayana Yastremska is dedicating her inspired Melbourne Park run to Ukraine’s fighters after becoming the first qualifier through to the Australian Open semi-finals in almost half a century.
Yastremska produced another fearless display of shot-making to end Czech teenager Linda Noskova’s own giant-killing charge with a 6-3 6-4 quarter-final victory on Wednesday.
Not since local Christine Dorey in 1978 has a qualifier made the last four of the women’s Open.
“It’s nice to make a history. It’s something new for me and for my generation because the last time it happened it was a long time ago. I wasn’t born yet,” Yastremska said after blasting 19 winners to Noskova’s six.
“It’s nice. I’m really happy to be in my first semi-finals. I was a little bit nervous, but at the same time tired.
“I was a little bit too emotional today before my match. I got angry at the practice of my coach, but that’s fine because I could put my emotions away.
“Yeah, another step is done.”
Yastremska scribbled an emotional tribute on a courtside camera to soldiers back in her war-torn homeland after notching the most significant win of her career at Rod Laver Arena.
“The Ukrainian fighters, I’m very proud of them,” she said.
“They really deserve a huge respect. I always try to write something for Ukraine, about Ukraine.
“It’s my mission here. If I do well, I can get to express. I’m just trying to give the signal to Ukraine that I’m really proud of it.”
Speaking after the match, the 23-year old from Odesa defended countrywoman Yelyzaveta Kotliar for shaking the hand of Russian opponent Vlada Mincheva following her loss in the first round of the junior girls’ singles.
The Ukrainian Tennis Foundation’s position is for players to abstain from handshakes with Russian and Belarusian opponents during matches, with several notable instances at the Australian Open.
Yastremska said Kotliar ‘just got too emotional and confused’ with the post-match act, believing it was accidental.
“You know, Ukrainians, we have our position,” Yastremska said in her post-match press conference.
“We’re not shaking their hands. But I think she’s still a little bit young, not so experienced and it can happen with anyone.
“I cannot judge her because I don’t know what was in her head. On purpose or not on purpose, I don’t know.
“But I’m sure that she stands by Ukraine and just got too emotional and confused.”
Noskova had taken out three seeds, including world No.1 Iga Swiatek in the third round, during her equally surprising charge to a maiden grand slam quarter-final appearance.
But the 19-year-old found herself on the back foot from the get-go on RLA.
Yastremska, the world No.93 but ranked as high as 21 four years ago, held to love in the opening game of the match and broke Noskova twice to take the first set in 36 minutes.
The Ukrainian received a code violation in the fourth game of the second set for exceeding the allotted 25 seconds between points.
Unfazed, she crunched down her fastest serve of the match, a 182km/h thunderbolt, on the way to holding for 2-2.
She then broke Noskova in the seventh game and refused to let a rare foot-fault call against her while trying to serve out the match shake her focus.
Yastremska appeared to ace Noskova to go 5-4, 30-0 up only for the umpire to intervene.
The Ukrainian dropped the next two points before staying strong to prevail after one hour and 19 minutes and said she could never have imagined making the last four when she set about qualifying more than two weeks ago.
“I was just focusing on playing each match, on improving,” Yastremska said eight wins later.
“I was working on some things that is a little bit personal. It was more associating with my head and with the way I feel on court.
“I wasn’t really putting the goal to go quarters, fourth round, semis or whatever. I was just trying to enjoy playing here.”