Yastremska cites mother’s birthday as motivation in Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships victory
DUBAI: Moments after she pulled off a huge upset over world No. 3 Barbora Krejcikova in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships second round on Wednesday, Dayana Yastremska looked straight at the camera, blew a kiss and made the shape of a heart with her fingers.
It was a message directed toward her mother, who is back in Ukraine celebrating her birthday and following her daughter’s march to the quarterfinals in Dubai from afar.
Yastremska’s 6-3, 7-6 (3) victory over the reigning French Open champion was her fifth win of the week in Dubai, having made her way through three tough qualifying rounds before her two successes in the main draw.
The win against Krejcikova was the 21-year-old’s first top 10 triumph in two years and it earned her a place in her biggest WTA quarterfinal since Adelaide in 2020.
The Ukrainian was ranked as high as 21 in the world in January 2020, but a doping ban that was lifted in June last year derailed her career.
Yastremska had tested positive for a banned substance in an out-of-competition test and was provisionally suspended in January 2021. She was cleared of any wrongdoing by the ITF in a hearing at the end of May and returned to action in July.
Now ranked 146, Yastremska is trying to find her way back and things seem to be falling into place for her this week in the Emirates.
“I’m very excited, and I think it’s the first tournament since two years that I have won five matches in a row, so it means a lot to me,” Yastremska told Arab News on Wednesday after booking a quarterfinal date with Marketa Vondrousova.
“I think today the most important thing that really motivated me to win is my mother, because it’s her birthday today, so I really wanted to win and give her a big kiss to the camera.”
After battling through a couple of tough three-setters earlier in the week, Yastremska was thrilled she could get through her clash with Krejcikova in straights, and says she was able to stay calm and patient on court against the Czech No. 2 seed.
While determined to get back to where she feels she belongs, the three-time WTA titlist knows it will take her some time to rejoin the game’s elite.
“I am where I am right now. I’m not really thinking about the ranking and stuff,” she said.
“When I go on court now, I just see the yellow ball and I just try to play with the ball and not with the rankings. We will see where I can be. I don’t put really huge goals now — step by step and we will see.”
Joined in Dubai by her father and a Czech coach she is currently on trial with, the Odessa native reflected on the tough times she faced upon return from suspension.
“I didn’t have a great time but I tried to look at it positively, because if I was there, it means I can be back there again,” she said, referring to her former career-high ranking.
“I know the way, so I just need to take the patience some way if I want to be back there. So day by day, working hard and I hope I’ll be back there.
“There is not just one thing that was the hardest for me. It’s everything; mentally it was hard, physically as well; I kind of lost that feeling of the game, lost the feeling of myself, how I was before, the way I was before.
“I was very confused and everything but now I think I’m getting back slowly there and trying.”
Although she is only 21, Yastremska does not consider herself to be young in the tennis world.
She is trying to enjoy the journey and is soaking up the support she has been getting from fans in Dubai this week.
“I get very good support here because there are a lot of people that I know,” she added.
“The person I high-fived on the court — we know these people, they are from my city in Odessa and he’s also playing tennis, but not professionally. We’re practicing in the same club.
“The atmosphere here is really nice and the ball kids are supporting me and there are a lot of people from Ukraine here, and not just from Ukraine. I love to be here in Dubai.”