TORONTO, Canada - 19-year-old Dayana Yastremska leaves the Rogers Cup with her head held high after posting her best result at a Premier 5 event, feeling like she’s finally turned the page on an emotional rollercoaster of a season.
With two WTA titles under her belt this year at Hua Hin and Strasbourg, her first back-to-back Premier-level match wins this week in Toronto and sitting one spot shy of her career-highest ranking of World No.32, she should be having the time of her life on the tennis court. But injury and a lack of consistency - as well as her mother’s health scare during the Australian Open - have presented serious challenges for the Ukrainian player.
“I wouldn’t say that my season is really great,” Yastremska told wtatennis.com. “Because, yeah, I won two WTA tournaments, but it was all big ups, its was big downs. I would like to keep it more stable.
“I had a foot injury at the beginning of the year during the American season, so I couldn’t really practice well. It was tough moments for me, but I always tried to stay the same - continue to work, continue doing my job.”
After closing out her 2018 season on a high following her maiden WTA triumph in Hong Kong - which catapulted her into the WTA’s Top 100 - Yastremska traveled to Australia where she kept the momentum going with a quarterfinal in Hobart and a career-best run to the Australian Open third round.
But it was after that final match in Melbourne, where she lost to a dialed-in Serena Williams, 6-1, 6-2, that a freak accident struck the teenager’s family in what Yastremska’s father called ‘one of the worst nights in the history of our lives’.
Her mother Marina, who also serves as her mental coach, was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery after a champagne bottle exploded in her hands, damaging her eye. Thanks in part to the efforts of tennis agent Stefan Gurov - who represents Elina Svitolina - a team of surgical specialists quickly assembled and operated for four hours to save Marina’s eye.
“It was very difficult to survive these four hours, we did not understand what was happening,” said Yastremska’s father, Alexander, in an interview with Ukrainian tennis site, BTU. “The guys saved the eye, this is a fact, we are very grateful to them for this… I also want to thank [Craig Tiley] the director of the Australian Open, who took on the entire financial component of this tragic night.”
Still reeling from the terrifying ordeal, Yastremska was on a plane barely a week later to compete in Thailand at her mother’s urging - though she admits that tennis was the farthest thing from her mind.
“It wasn’t an easy period in Australia,” Yastremska recalled. “It took me a couple of matches to recover from it as well, not just my mother. But now it’s all good with her and her eyes, seeing better, but now all is fine.
“But for my psyche, it was really hard to play. I went to Thailand, but my mind was away. But still somehow I could show myself that I could pass it and win that trophy. So that was for her.”
Yastremska dedicated the victory to her mother, who underwent further surgery in Ukraine two days after the Hua Hin final to restore vision in her eye. But the 19-year-old’s reward for overcoming such a difficult personal moment turned out to be even more hardship in the form of a lingering ankle injury.
“A couple of tournaments after Thailand, I still played with it,” she said. “I mean, I treated it, but at the same time I played on it. I thought that it wasn’t so serious, but I always had the pain coming back.”
Yastremska won just one match between Dubai and Strasbourg, where she snapped a four-match losing streak with a run to her third career WTA title.
“That was experience - life experience, not only about tennis,” Yastremska said of her difficult start to the year. “But it also helped me to be stronger in the tennis court, to accept that sometimes things are not so important and realize that sometimes we are just creating problems when things are going simple.”
With the past firmly behind her, Yastremska now looks to the future for a new source of inspiration: her 12-year-old sister Ivanna, who is now taking her first steps in a budding professional tennis career at Tennis Europe’s Sanchez-Casal Kids Cup U-12s in Barcelona. In fact, this week, Dayana was determined to match Ivanna’s results, with both players winning their first matches on the same day and with the same score: 6-3, 6-2.
“So our first matches we won with the same score, and that was really nice because when I won the first set, it really motivated me to win the second set with the same score as well, 6-2.”
Yastremska was the perfect image of a proud older sister when she described the way Ivanna, who has played casually since childhood, was inspired to follow in her footsteps after watching her play on the WTA tour.
“She was singing very good, she was horseback riding. But, somehow, she decided to play tennis,” Yastremska said with a knowing smile. “She had never played tournaments in her life, now just two or three - so this her first semifinal! No matter how she will play, she still did a good job.”
Ultimately, the Yastremska sisters’ parallel journeys both came to a nearly identical end on Thursday, when they lost in straight sets within hours of each other.
But for the older Yastremska, the experience in Toronto - and throughout the rest of her rollercoaster season - has only motivated her to go even further in 2019.
“Sometimes, of course, you go up, sometimes you go down,” she reflected. “You just have to accept it. I’ve been able to accept what was going on and just continue to work and improve myself, perfect myself. And that’s what changed. If you deserve it, you’ll get it.”