Dayana Yastremska: Ukraine’s First Grand Slam Champion?

Dayana Yastremska at the Australian Open

The city of Odessa has long been of great importance to Ukraine. The Black Sea port has faced numerous attacks over its long history, belonging to nomadic tribes such as the Pechenegs and the Mongol Golden Horde, as well as serving as an outpost for the Ottoman and Russian Empires. Its exports were invaluable to the Soviet Union and now to Ukraine. But Odessa has also produced a player who might carve out a new chapter in the history of the city: Dayana Yastremska.

A precocious talent

Yastremska’s talent was evident almost from the day she picked up a tennis racquet aged five. She comes from a sporting family, with her father a volleyball player of some note, and by 12 the Ukrainian was competing internationally, and not without success, making the final of the prestigious Orange Bowl that year. At just 15-years-old, Yastremska won her first ITF title on clay in Brazil, to which she later added successes in Hungary and Rome, also on the clay.

She also enjoyed good results at the Junior Grand Slams. Yastremska began 2016 by reaching the girls’ doubles final at the Australian Open alongside her compatriot Anastasia Zarytska and she backed that up with a run to the final at Wimbledon in the girls’ singles. She fell there to Anastasia Potapova, who is also making impressive strides on the WTA Tour, but her results were sufficiently encouraging for Yastremska to make the step up into the professional game.

WTA Titles

Yastremska made her Grand Slam debut at the 2018 US Open final after a series of impressive performances catapulted her into the top 100. And she backed that up by winning her first WTA title in October of that year in Hong Kong, crushing 6th seed Wang Qiang in the final for the loss of only three games. Indeed, Yastremska did not drop a set in the entire week. She continued to progress in 2019, adding two more International-level titles in Thailand and on the clay in Strasbourg. Particularly encouraging for the Ukrainian was her ability to win on different surfaces.

Sascha Bajin to hone Yastremska’s attacking game

One does not need to watch Yastremska for long to discover the source of her success. There are few who hit the ball harder than Yastremska, who led the WTA Tour in 2019 in winners and forcing errors. Yastremska also imparts relatively little topspin to her groundstrokes, particularly her forehand, which makes them even harder to contend with. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her great weakness has proven to be unforced errors, with young gun having adopted a high-risk high-reward approach.

But that occasional lack of consistency is something her new coach Sascha Bajin, who coached Naomi Osaka to titles at Melbourne Park and in Flushing Meadows, is working to address. And the signs thus far have been positive. Yastremska arrived at the 2020 Australian Open as the 23rd seed, having made her first Premier-level final at the Adelaide International in her last outing, where it took some of world #1 Ashleigh Barty’s best tennis to stop her.

The end of Wozniacki?

Kaja Juvan, who had stormed through the Australian Open qualifying, felt the full force of the Ukrainian’s power in the first round, winning just two games in a 1-6 1-6 hammering. Yastremska’s reward for that win is a clash with 2018 champion and former-world #1 Caroline Wozniacki, who is playing the last tournament of her professional career. Such has been the rise of Yastremska, and the relative decline of the Dane, that the young gun heads into the match as the favourite.

One suspects that Wozniacki will be hard-pressed to defend against the Ukrainian’s power off the ground, although Wozniacki has, of course, made a career out of doing just that. As a result, Yastremska will need to remain patient, particularly as Wozniacki will be able to approach this match with nothing to lose, save the chance of a fourth-round clash with her close friend and all-time great Serena Williams, which she may consider a more fitting way to depart the world stage.

But whatever happens, Wozniacki has undeniably had a big role in the sport’s past as one of the leading figures of the last decade. But the future of the WTA Tour lies in the hands of players such as Yastremska. The 19-year-old will likely need to be at her to overcome the challenge posed by Wozniacki, but the only trajectory that the Odessan seems to know is up. For the Dane, the time has all-but come to contemplate what has been. But for Yastremska, the question of what will be is much more pressing.

Main photo:
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