China's top-ranked player Zheng Qinwen booked a mouth-watering Australian Open women's singles final against defending champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus as she eyes a maiden Grand Slam title after blasting past qualifier Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine here on Thursday.
The 12th seed Zheng is closing in on ending a decade-long title drought in Grand Slam singles for Chinese players after a 6-4, 6-4 win in one hour and 42 minutes.
Her idol Li Na is the only Chinese player to have won a Grand Slam singles title, having famously triumphed at Roland Garros in 2011 before lifting the trophy at the Australian Open exactly a decade ago.
"It feels unbelievable. I'm super excited to have such a great performance. It's tough to explain my emotions right now," said Zheng after her first Grand Slam semifinal.
The 21-year-old Zheng started warm favorite but was wary against No.93 Yastremska, whose giant-killing run in Melbourne included reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic and two-time former tournament winner Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.
After a see-saw start, the Ukrainian was in distress and clutching at her stomach muscle after running for a forehand. She needed a medical timeout after the seventh game, but continued as Zheng took control to take out the first set.
Zheng gained a stranglehold when she broke in the third game of the second set, but failed to capitalize as the unpredictable contest continued. Zheng raised her intensity and crushed Yastremska's resistance to clinch victory on serve as she raised her arms aloft and let out a roar in celebration.
Zheng has impressively built on a breakout season last year, but her quest for a first Grand Slam crown will have to go through the formidable presence of Sabalenka, who has not lost a set in the tournament.