LONDON, UK - In an intriguing, then thrilling, clash of young up-and-comers, Dayana Yastremska overpowered No.27 seed Sofia Kenin 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 in two hours and seven minutes to move into the third round of Wimbledon on her pro debut.
Both 20-year-old Kenin and 19-year-old Yastremska are multiple titlists in 2019, with the former capturing her first two titles in Hobart and Mallorca two weeks ago, and the latter picking up her second and third trophies in Hua Hin and Strasbourg, but today was the first time they had met - and it was as tight a contest as one might have predicted. In a classic stylistic contrast, the irresistible force of Yastremska's power would go up against Kenin's counterpunching nous, which was good enough to take Serena Williams out at Roland Garros - but could not withstand the Ukrainian's all-or-nothing firepower, which produced a symmetrically balanced 46 winners to 46 unforced errors today.
Though Yastremska, the 2016 Wimbledon girls' runner-up to Anastasia Potapova, has risen to World No.35 over the past year, this week marks her first time in the main draw at SW19. It has been marked by the same audacious shotmaking that has become her trademark - and at times in the opening set, particularly near the start, this seemed perhaps overly ambitious. For every breathtaking backhand banger from the Yastremska racquet, there were several wild errors as she went for glory shots too early in rallies or from way out of position.
Kenin, by contrast, was weathering the storm and moving the ball around the court well, and consequently went up a break twice. Trailing 2-4, though, Yastremska discovered a sufficiency of the control she had hitherto lacked. After coming through a titanic tussle on her fifth break point to level at 4-4, the teenager turned the closing stages of the set into her own personal highlights reel, snatching the set with consecutive return winners off each wing followed by a ruthless punishment of a Kenin dropshot.
But Yastremska's radar continued to oscillate in the second set as Kenin began to up her own aggression levels, striking out harder from her forehand wing. Her reward was to garner at least one break point opportunity in four out of Yastremska's five service games in the set, converting twice to emerge from a narrowly contested sequence of three breaks with a 4-3 lead as the younger player double faulted for a third time. From there, Kenin would buckle down and focus on executing the basics, with strong serving seeing her over the line and a backhand winner forcing the decider.
As the contest heated up and the quality rose in a gripping final set, it was Yastremska's superior clutch play that proved decisive. The youngster was under the cosh at the start as she struggled to contain her forehand - but when it came to saving break points, it was the same wing that saved her. Showcasing a bold ability to play as though none of her mistakes had happened, Yastremska continued to swing for the lines and take on swashbuckling drive volleys to stave off four break points in the first three games of the third set.
This same capacity to raise her game when she truly needed to also came to the fore at the business end of the set. With neither player giving ground behind their delivery, Yastremska - holding a 4-3 lead - opted to force the issue with some vigour. As in the first set, consecutive returns aimed down the line left Kenin flailing and carved out a break point out of nowhere - taken when the American sent a backhand into the tramlines. In the blink of an eye, Yastremska had taken a match that had seemed evenly poised to seize victory by the throat, serving out to love in a matter of minutes and finishing with her 10th ace of the day.
The Ukrainian's reward, in the section of the draw vacated by No.2 seed Naomi Osaka, is a third-round clash with Viktorija Golubic - a 6-4, 7-6(3) victor over Osaka's conqueror Yulia Putintseva - with a maiden Slam second week at stake for both players.