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Zheng Qinwen breaks into world Top 10 for first time after impressive Australian Open run

A year ago, Zheng Qinwen embarked on her Australian Open campaign, adored within the Chinese tennis scene but relatively unknown elsewhere. Regrettably, she couldn’t capitalize on her impressive form and fell to American Bernarda Pera in straight sets during the second round, failing to make a deeper run in Melbourne.

This year’s Australian Open paints a different picture for Zheng as she entered as the 12th seed. No longer a minnow, she grappled with the weight and privilege of expectations, alongside the distractions that come with sporting stardom. To her credit, the 21-year-old has shown remarkable resilience in the face of immense pressure.

In a stunning turn of events, Zheng reached the semifinals for the first time in her career after a commanding victory over Russia’s Anna Kalinskaya, 25, on Wednesday. Zheng now follows in the footsteps of esteemed players such as Li Na, a two-time Grand Slam champion, and Zheng Jie, a two-time major semifinalist, becoming the third player from the Chinese mainland to achieve this remarkable feat.

China's Zheng Qinwen acknowledges the crowd during the women's singles quarterfinals at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, January 24, 2024. /CFP

China’s Zheng Qinwen acknowledges the crowd during the women’s singles quarterfinals at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, January 24, 2024. /CFP

Additionally, this achievement secures Zheng’s debut in the Top 10 rankings, marking a significant milestone in her burgeoning career.

“That’s tremendous news for me, a source of added motivation. I distinctly remember expressing my desire to break into the top 10 rankings at last year’s Australian Open, and now, just one year later, here I am. It’s truly an incredible moment,” Zheng exclaimed with a beaming smile during the post-match press conference, clearly elated by her breakthrough achievement.

“Kalinskaya put up a really strong performance today, especially with her baseline strokes,” Zheng reflected. “Losing the first set was incredibly challenging. The opponent was playing exceptionally well. It was a tough match that evoked a lot of emotions. It became more than just a game of tennis on the court.

“In the beginning, I found myself overthinking, and that’s why I ended up losing the first set, facing early breaks. As the match progressed, I struggled to hold my serve, which has been one of my ongoing issues. However, after losing the first set, I told myself to stay focused and not dwell on unnecessary thoughts.

“I realized that overthinking was not helping me play my best tennis. I’m truly delighted that I managed to make that adjustment and ultimately win the match.”

China's Zheng Qinwen (L) shakes hands with Russia's Anna Kalinskaya after the women's singles quarterfinals at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, January 24, 2024. /CFP

China’s Zheng Qinwen (L) shakes hands with Russia’s Anna Kalinskaya after the women’s singles quarterfinals at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, January 24, 2024. /CFP

In the semifinal, Zheng will be facing qualifier Dayana Yastremska from Ukraine, marking an exciting first-time encounter between two first-time Grand Slam semifinalists. It is noteworthy that Zheng and Yastremska join the ranks of a select group of players born in 2000 or later who have reached the prestigious last four of a major tournament.

This esteemed group includes talented individuals such as Amanda Anisimova, Bianca Andreescu, Iga Swiatek, Emma Raducanu, Leylah Fernandez, and Coco Gauff, showcasing the exceptional talent of the younger generation in the world of tennis.

Interestingly, the last instance of a Grand Slam semifinal featuring two first-time semifinalists occurred at Wimbledon in 2022, where Ons Jabeur emerged triumphant in a thrilling encounter against Tatjana Maria. As for the Australian Open, the last time such a scenario unfolded was back in 1996 when Anke Huber secured victory in a hard-fought match against Amanda Coetzer.

China's Zheng Qinwen signs autographs after the women's singles quarterfinals at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, January 24, 2024. /CFP

China’s Zheng Qinwen signs autographs after the women’s singles quarterfinals at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, January 24, 2024. /CFP

These matchups between rising stars add a layer of anticipation and unpredictability to the tournament, and for Zheng, each step forward now represents a new breakthrough, and she has prepared herself mentally to face whatever challenges lie ahead.

“At the start of last year, I was brimming with confidence, but due to my own high expectations, I struggled to find the right equilibrium. That unwavering self-assurance soon transformed into an intangible burden,” observed Zheng.

“However, after enduring a year of challenges and gaining valuable experiences, I gradually found my footing and acquired a sense of stability. I now understand the kind of mindset required to elevate my game and become a better player.”