Yastremska ready for ‘boom-boom’ Sabalenka showdown

16 January 2020, by Reem Abulleil

“It’s going to be boom-boom,” Dayana Yastremska predicts, looking ahead to her upcoming Adelaide International semi-final against fellow power-hitter Aryna Sabalenka.

The fast-rising 19-year-old reached the first Premier-level semi-final of her career with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Croatian world No.20 Donna Vekic on Thursday, showcasing an explosive game that has carried her to a career-high 22 in the world last season.

She has struck 19 aces through her first three matches this week at the Memorial Drive Tennis Centre and her description of her next test was apt, as she takes on the 21st-ranked Sabalenka, whose game is just as powerful.

The Belarusian earned her spot in the semi-finals with a 6-4, 6-2 success over No.2 seed Simona Halep, and will be looking to overturn a 0-2 head-to-head record against Yastremska on Friday.

Armed with a new coach, Sascha Bajin, and a new strength and conditioning trainer, Marino Basic, Yastremska is one to watch this season on the WTA tour.

She posted two top-20 wins at the same event for the first time in her career this week and is now 3-0 head-to-head against Vekic.

The only teenager in the Adelaide women’s draw, Yastremska was the first player born in the 2000s to crack the top-100 when she broke through in July 2018. She has since picked up three WTA titles and made the fourth round at Wimbledon 2019.

“It’s nice to be in the semi-finals just in the beginning of the year. Well, I’m not playing my best game, but it’s still nice, because now after the pre-season I try to do the things I have been practicing. I’m just getting my form,” said Yastremska.

The Ukrainian teen spent her pre-season in Marbella with her new team and her family. Bajin, who previously coached Naomi Osaka and Kristina Mladenovic and used to be Serena Williams’ hitting partner, sees huge potential in Yastremska.

“I’m hitting with her daily and I’ve hit with Serena, with Naomi, with all of these girls, and her ball speed, her striking, her movement is right there, it’s really right there,” Bajin told adelaideinternational.com.au.

“I do believe she has something great within her and I hope I can find a way to unlock it. Whether it’s me or it’s someone else, I don’t know; I hope it’s going to be me. But yeah, she has something very special.”

Yastremska has big goals for 2020, but she prefers to keep them “a secret”. Bajin is looking to introduce new dimensions to her game and believes more variety could take her to the next level.

“I want her to understand that there’s different types of aggression,” he explains. “You can be aggressive by just hitting fast, the pace of ball just being really fast. But adding an angle, opening the court once in a while, or even using her athleticism to get a lot of balls back, like Halep does, she’s still aggressive, she gets a lot of balls back, puts pressure on you that way, and then you try to go for more and more and more and then you eventually miss.

“So there are different types of pressure, different types of aggression and that’s something I want her to understand. And the moment she does that she’s going to become a way more complete player and I believe a lot of girls are going to be in big trouble then.”

Yastremska’s ascension may have been a swift one, but she assures she feels comfortable competing at this level, against the world’s top players.

She’s trying maintain a fine balance between being ambitious, while also focusing on the present.

“I have, like, a big goal for Australia, but I’m gonna try to stay really realistic and play match by match. That’s all I can think about,” she says, referring to next week’s Australian Open in Melbourne.

She feels she has put in the work during the off-season, and can’t wait to see it all pay off.

“I’m just really proud of myself that I could really stay 100 per cent focused each practice that I was doing in pre-season, because it wasn’t easy, especially when you have, like, week free, when you’re really tired physically, mentally, but you still have to keep going and work, like, each practice, because after, when you play tournaments, it’s the same thing. When you get really tired you have to give it a little bit more,” she says.

“I think I’m proud that I could really be able to always stay same, I could hold the same level for each practice till the end. That was the goal, to keep always same level.”

Bajin paid tribute to Yastremska’s parents, saying they have managed to keep her humble and grounded. They all spent four full weeks together in Marbella under one roof, and Bajin was thrilled with how well they all got along.

Yastremska is satisfied with how things have gone so far in this new coaching partnership.

“He’s really different,” she says with a smile. “Sometimes he can be really fun on court.

“If he sees that I’m pretty tired and emotionally down, sometimes he can be really serious, and I think it’s a good balance when the coach and player can find the right way with each other.

“Sometimes you just have to make fun, sometimes you really have to push, and sometimes you have to get angry. I think he’s doing a good job by finding this balance working with me.”