No.12 seed Zheng Qinwen battled back from a set down at the Australian Open to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal, overcoming Anna Kalinskaya 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-1 in 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Zheng, who made her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open last year, won 10 of the last 11 games of the match to become the third Chinese major semifinalist in history. She follows in the footsteps of two-time Grand Slam champion Li Na, the winner here in 2014, and two-time major semifinalist Zheng Jie.

The result also guarantees that Zheng will make her Top 10 debut in the next edition of the WTA rankings following the Australian Open, becoming the second Chinese player following Li. Last month, the 21-year-old Zheng was named Most Improved Player of the Year after winning her first two Hologic WTA Tour titles in 2023, in Palermo and on home soil in Zhengzhou.

Zheng will next face qualifier Dayana Yastremska in a first-time encounter between two first-time Grand Slam semifinalists. Zheng and Yastremska are the seventh and eighth players born in 2000 or later to make the last four of a major, following Amanda Anisimova, Bianca Andreescu, Iga Swiatek, Emma Raducanu, Leylah Fernandez and Coco Gauff.

The last time a Grand Slam semifinal pitted two first-time semifinalists against each other was at Wimbledon 2022, when Ons Jabeur defeated Tatjana Maria 6-2, 3-6, 6-1. The last time this occurred at the Australian Open was in 1996, when Anke Huber defeated Amanda Coetzer 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

The last time the Australian Open featured two first-time major semifinalists was in 2004, when Patty Schnyder and Fabiola Zuluaga both made the final four (losing to Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters respectively).

How Zheng turned the match around: For a set-and-a-half, there was almost nothing between the two competitors -- but it was No.75-ranked Kalinskaya who had played better on big points to edge ahead.

Zheng twice went up a break early in the first set, only for Kalinskaya to break back immediately both times. At 3-3, Kalinskaya came up with superb winners to escape another pair of break points and edge ahead for the first time. Anticipating and redirecting the seeded player's big strikes, Kalinskaya's game plan successfully blunted Zheng's power.

In the ensuing tiebreak, Kalinskaya barely put a foot wrong to win six of the last seven points from 3-1 down. Zheng's first-serve percentage had let her down in the opening set at just 49%, and this was especially evident on set point, when Kalinskaya hammered a second-serve return for a clean winner. By contrast, Kalinskaya had landed an impressive 82% of her first deliveries.

This was the main area that Zheng cleaned up in the second and third sets. Indeed, following the first set she did not face another break point, landing 61% of her first serves in the second set and 63% in the third. She conceded just seven points on serve in the second set and a mere three in the third.

Kalinskaya stuck with her for the first half of the second set with stellar serving of her own, but was the first to blink serving at 3-4. A mishit backhand gifted Zheng the first break point of the set, duly converted when Kalinskaya netted a forehand.

Zheng was in full flow throughout the decider, winning the last six games in a row as she tallied 42 winners (including 10 aces) overall.

Zheng on pulling off the comeback: "I lost the first set and it was really, really difficult. I mean, the opponent, she's playing really good. That was really tough match. So emotional. It's more than just tennis on court. 

"At the beginning of the first set I'm just thinking too much. That's why I lost the first set, because I got those early breaks. Then later on I'm not able to keep my serve. Of course that's one of my problems. So when I lost the first set directly, I tried to tell myself, 'Stay focused. Don't think too much. Just focus right now.'

"Because the first set already prove [that thinking] too much is not helping, and you can't play your best tennis there. So I'm really happy that I'm able to change that and to win the match at the end."