Qinwen Zheng
A heavyweight clash between (2) Aryna Sabalenka and (4) Coco Gauff is countered by a Cinderella showdown between (12) Qinwen Zheng and (Q) Dayana Yastremska.

(2) Aryna Sabalenka vs. (4) Coco Gauff

They meet again.

When Coco Gauff won her first major at last year’s U.S. Open, it came at Aryna Sabalenka’s expense.

Sablenka had to settle for her first ascension to the world No. 1 ranking.

It was a good consolation prize, but the fairy tale is always to seize No. 1 by winning the tournament, otherwise it feels bittersweet.

She deserved the No. 1 spot, but handed it back to its previous owner Iga Swiatek after a brief eight-week reign.

So it comes as no surprise that Sabalenka has been chomping at the bit for a rematch with Coco, especially on a big stage like this.

She admitted as much in her post-match press conference after defeating (9) Barbara Krejcikova 6-2, 6-3, saying “after the U.S. Open I really wanted that revenge.”

Nothing malicious in her voice, just the comments of an unbridled competitor with a stinging memory.

She had that U.S. Open match against Gauff won, but she failed to adapt when Gauff changed tactics after getting pushed around in the first set. Sabalenka didn’t adjust to the new gameplan. One imagines she had a post-mortem with her team after that match, and has learned that she has to adjust if Plan A isn’t working.

Meanwhile, Coco Gauff pulled a rabbit out of a hat in her quarterfinal match against Marta Kostyuk, coming back from a 5-1 deficit in the first set by reeling off five straight games and eventually stealing it in a tiebreaker. That gave her the cushion she needed to survive in three sets, 7-6(6), 6-7(3), 6-2.

Gauff leads the head-to-head series against Sabalenka 4-2. Sabalenka knows that as well, and it will either serve as motivation or to sow doubt.

Sabalenka has been the most dominant player in the tournament so far, losing only sixteen games through five matches, including a double bagel of 28th-seeded Lesia Tsurenko. She’s mowing people down. Her closest set has been 6-3.

Gauff presents a much different challenge than anyone she has faced so far though. She’ll be able to go toe-to-toe with her power, and importantly, puncture Sabalenka’s confidence with a few key momentum swings.

The question is, will Sabalenka adjust this time?

They both became Grand Slam champions in 2023, so there are no more humps to get over. This should be a straightforward slugfest as they’re both now in pursuit of more major trophies.

Given how the other half of the draw was chopped asunder, this semifinal is likely a de facto final, as whoever wins will be a heavy favorite against both Zheng and Yastremska.

Winner: Aryna Sabalenka

(12) Qinwen Zheng vs. (Q) Dayana Yastremska

In our tournament preview, we posited that women’s tennis might be heading into an era of a Big 4. That the days of completely unexpected breakthroughs may be nearing an end. Well, we were halfway right.

This semifinal features two fresh faces that we assume zero people saw reaching the semis at the start of the tournament.

But here we are. A qualifier and a very under-the-radar talent from China have bested all their foes, and find themselves two wins away from a Grand Slam title.

(12) Qinwen Zheng has been all smiles as she has defeated (checks notes) zero seeds on her way to the final four. Easy path? Sure, perhaps. But nothing is easy in Grand Slams, and she met every moment, including three consecutive matches on Rod Laver Arena and a nerve-wracking tilt against countrywoman Yafan Wang in Round 3.

We can’t consider this run a huge surprise, though. After all, Zheng was just in the quarters at the U.S. Open a few months ago. She’ll move into the top 10 on the heels of this run. Notably, it’s at her “home” slam, as the Australian Open is the honorary major for the Asian tennis community.

Her success even brought fan favorite Li Na back onto the scene, the former No. 1 and Aussie champ who has been the sole torch-carrier for Chinese tennis.

Zheng will face off against the latest qualifier to far exceed expectations, Dayana Yastremska.

Yastremska dropped the first depth charge at this year’s Open when she upset (7) Marketa Vondrousova in the first round. It has been chaos ever since.

She has defeated three seeds along the way, including two-time Aussie champ (18) Victoria Azarenka.

There’s a term for what Yastremska is trying to do now—it’s called “pulling a Radacanu.”

No player had ever won a Grand Slam as a qualifier before Emma Radacanu did it at the 2021 U.S. Open. Yastremska is now the second woman to reach the Aussie semis as a qualifier. The last woman to accomplish that was Christine Dorey in 1978.

Yastremska will vault up the rankings from 93 to somewhere in the top 35. She’ll pick up a tidy $660,000 paycheck as well (at a minimum). That’s career-changing dough for the 23-year-old.

The match itself will probably come down to nerves.

Both will be nervous to be this deep into a Grand Slam for the first time. Zheng has the advantage there, though, given her recent trip to the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

They both have uncommon pressure as representatives of their home countries of China and Ukraine, so we can call that a draw.

Yastremska probably has more reason to feel confident given her more difficult road to get here. Zheng, meanwhile, will be trying to channel advice from Li Na to just “not think too much.” Easier said than done.

They’re both Cinderella stories, and one of them will be going to the ball on Saturday.

Winner: Dayana Yastremska