We promised Dayana Yastremska would be one to watch in 2018, and the Ukrainian teenager didn’t disappoint. A mere months after her 18th birthday, she became the first woman born in the new millenium to crack the Top 100 and finished the season with a debut WTA title at the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open.
Though at a career-high of No.58, the youngster wryly admitted to falling just short of her pre-season ambition.
“I set the goal to enter the Top 50, but in spite of the fact that I am No.58, I am still very pleased. I am proud that I could prove myself at the end of the year. My emotions were jumping at the beginning of the year, but now I’m more calm, and I still work more and more. I’m hungry, and I want to go much father!”
In an exclusive interview with wtatennis.com, Yastremska discussed the perks of rising up the rankings, her work with coaching consultant and Hall of Famer Justine Henin, and satisfying her need for speed during her off-season in Dubai.
1. Yastremska surged up 130 spots on the WTA rankings.
The teen won her first WTA main draw match last spring at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup - shocking former World No.9 Andrea Petkovic in three sets. Starting the 2018 season ranked No.188, she played qualifying on the WTA level before switching to the ITF Pro Circuit during the European clay swing.
“Everywhere in the game has improved that little bit. I’m so happy that I was able to overcome myself in some private moments, as well.”
She reached the final of a $100K tournament in Cagnes-sur-mer as a qualifier on clay, and another in Ilkley on grass. Avenging a junior Wimbledon loss to Anastasia Potapova at a $60K in Rome, she clinched her Top 100 debut a week later in Budapest.
“Now it's easier to make a plan, and there are opportunities to play the best tournaments. Most of all, I like the organization and clarity of tournaments. The atmosphere there is even cooler if you are a top player!”
2. Her quick rise attracted the attention of a former World No.1.
Within a month of cracking the Top 100 - and ensuring her Grand Slam main draw debut at the US Open - she announced an impressive addition to her team, one that will remain on board to start next season.
“The team is ready for 2019,” she said of coaching consultant and seven-time major champion Justine Henin, who joined traveling coach Olivier Jeunehomme in August.
The results were almost immediate; Yastremska pushed Wimbledon semifinalist Julia Goerges to three sets at the Connecticut Open.
3. She blitzed the field in Hong Kong, and saved her best tennis for the final.
Yastremska didn’t drop a set en route to her first WTA title, becoming the second woman born in the 2000s to win one after Olga Danilovic defeated Potapova at the Moscow River Cup.
“All of the juniors from my generation showed themselves well this year; it was a cool race! Next year promises to be very interesting.”
Unseeded in Hong Kong, she first felt her momentum build after overcoming Fanny Stollar in the first round.
“The first round was the hardest for me, mentally, but the final was tough as well, because I understood that now I have a great chance to win my first WTA title.”
Losing just three games to an in-form Wang Qiang, a breathless teenager thanked the fans before heading to Luxembourg, where she was due to contest the BGL BNP Paribas Luxembourg Open.
“I flew with my mom on the plane, and I asked, ‘Mom, did I seriously win?’ I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel like I’d just won a title; I was already focused for Luxembourg.
“Looking back, there were so many great moments with fans, like how I couldn’t decide where in the stands I wanted to hit the autographed tennis balls after each match. I wanted to give one to everyone!”
4. Yastremska has big goals for 2019, and hopes to leave the rollercoasters in the off-season.
She kept up her good form in Luxembourg, shocking two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza to reach the semifinals - narrowly losing to former World No.7 Belinda Bencic in a third-set tie-break - and got to unwind during an exciting off-season in the Middle East.
“I went to Ferrari World in Dubai, and oh my god,” she recalled. “The speed was, like, 370 kilometers per hour, and the hill was terribly scary.”
Back on the ground, she resumed training with a scheduled return to action at the Brisbane International looming in two weeks.
“I hope to improve myself, keep gaining experience, make it into the Top 20, and prove myself at the Grand Slams.”
Set to make her Australian Open debut in January, Yastremska could clinch one of those goal right away.