Lyon | Yastremska reaches WTA 250 final against Zhang

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Dayana Yastremska is keeping the Ukrainian flag flying at the Open 6ème Sens – Métropole de Lyon in France, beating against the odds the No 2 seed Sorana Cirstea in 3 sets on Saturday to reach the final where she will meet Zhang Shuai, the 8th seed from China, who took out home favourite Caroline Garcia in the semi-finals.

Because of you, I am here still winning… In the third set, when I had match points and I lost that game, I was a bit crazy. I thought, I’m done, I’ve lost, because I don’t have any more power. And then everybody was supporting me, supporting me, and I felt like, you can do it. Dayana Yastremska

Yastremska escaped Russian bombings last week in her hometown of Odessa, fleeing to France where she received a wild-card to compete in Lyon.

“Because of you, I am here still winning,” the 21-year old told the crowd, having collapsed to her knees in tears after beating the Romanian, 7-6(5) 4-6 6-4.

The former World No 21, draped in the Ukrainian flag, was all smiles in her on court interview, though, as she thanked the French crowd for helping her pull through a nail-biting first-time encounter with Cirstea, the World No 30.

“It was a really tough match,” she said. “In the third set, when I had match points and I lost that game, I was a bit crazy.

“I thought, I’m done, I’ve lost, because I don’t have any more power. And then everybody was supporting me, supporting me, and I felt like, you can do it.”

Yastremska was forced to leave her parents behind as she and her 15-year old sister, Ivanna, fled Ukraine to Romania and then on to France after spending two nights sheltering in an underground carpark where she ‘woken up by bombs’.

“When I posted pictures on Instagram that I left my home, I got a lot of messages from French people and from all over the world,” Yastremska said. “But when I arrived here, I didn’t expect I would get that huge support.

“Ukrainian people are very strong. You can see that now during the war. Maybe, I’m also strong.”

Afterwards, Yastremska said that she was feeling mentally, rather than physically, tired.

“I read a lot of news every day,” she told the press. “Sometimes during the night I get messages from groups with the news; sometimes I wake up and read what’s going on, especially with my city.

“So I wouldn’t say I sleep here really good. I wake up pretty tired in the morning.

“But maybe it’s just my spirit that is pretty strong right now – that’s why I think I can deal with everything.

“I’m Ukrainian, and Ukrainian people are very strong. You can see that now during the war. Maybe I’m also strong.

“Every win from now on goes to my country. Compared to what’s going on, it has no big meaning.”

Sorana Cirstea, the No 2 seed, was edged out by Dayana Yastremska in the semi-finals

© Mohamed Farag/Getty Images

Yastremska’s game was in-and-out, as it has been all week, but she saved her best for the most critical of moments.

In the first set, having come from 1-4 down to get back on serve, she saved 2 set points serving at 5-6 with backhand winners and then, in the ensuing tiebreak, which was narrowly contested, Yastremska sealed the opener by slamming a return winner on her first set point.

Yastremska appeared to be cruising to her first WTA final since 2019 when she was 3-0 up in the second, but Cirstea fought back to win 6 of the next 7 games to level the match, thanks to solid serving and a flow of Ukrainian errors.

It was a similar pattern in the third, with Yastremska building leads, only for the 31-year-old Romanian to threaten to come back.

The Ukrainian served for the match at 5-3 in the tense decider, but could not convert any of her 3 match points, serving up a double-fault on her 2nd and another later to offer Cirstea the break back, which the Romanian grabbed.

Yastremska, however, found some excellent forehands in the next game, closing out her 4th match point by swatting a backhand winner off an ill-advised Cirstea drop-shot to reach the WTA 250 final in Lyon.

Zhang Shuai took out local favourite Caroline Garcia to reach the WTA 250 final in Lyon against Dayana Yastremska

Earlier in the day, 33-year old Zhang turned in a water-tight performance to deny Garcia a final appearance in front of her home fans.

The Chinese dropped just 8 points behind her first serve, and saved 2 out of the 3 break points she faced.

Garcia, a former World No 4, enjoyed a small purple patch in the second set, fending off 4 points to go down a double break and surging from 1-3 to 4-3, but despite the reminder of the Frenchwoman’s skills which electrified the crowd, Zhang was not to be denied.

A stellar pass from the 8th seed to break again for 6-5 set up Zhang to serve for the match, and she converted her second opportunity when Garcia sent her backhand long.

Yastremska and Zhang have split two previous meetings, with the Ukrainian winning 7-5 6-4 in the Hong Kong semi-finals en route to her maiden title, and the Chinese gaining a 6-4 1-6 6-2 revenge in the 4th round of Wimbledon in 2019.

Both are contesting their 5th career final, but the first indoors.

Yastremska’s last title match was at Adelaide 2020, where she fell to Ash Barty, and Zhang’s was at Nottingham 2021, where she was runner-up to Johanna Konta.

Yastremska, ranked 140, is bidding for her 4th career trophy, and her first since Strasbourg 2019, while 64-ranked Zhang is seeking her 3rd WTA Tour title, and first since Guangzhou 2017.

Yastremska’s win on Saturday came the day after Ukrainian No 1 one Elina Svitolina was knocked out of the Monterrey WTA 250 tournament by Colombia’s Maria Camila Osorio in the quarter-finals.

Svitolina pledged to dedicate her prize money at the event to Ukraine relief and the military.

Meanwhile, the Ukraine men’s team reached the Davis Cup World Group after beating Barbados in a play-off on Saturday in a tie switched to Turkey for security reasons.

Caroline Garcia’s hopes of reaching the final in her home town of Lyon were dashed by Zhang Shuai, the 8th seed

© Mohamed Farag/Getty Images

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