On the 10th anniversary of Li Na's second Grand Slam title at the 2014 Australian Open, Zheng Qinwen followed in her footsteps by becoming the second Chinese player in history to reach a major final. 

The No.12 seed defeated qualifier Dayana Yastremska 6-4, 6-4, claiming the battle of two first-time Grand Slam semifinalists in 1 hour and 42 minutes.

"When everything is working well, I believe in the destiny," Zheng told press afterward when asked about her achievement 10 years to the day after Li's victory. "But if the destiny doesn't go on my side, I don't believe that at all. Only depends where destiny goes."

In the final, Zheng will take on defending champion and No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka for the second time. Their only previous meeting took place in last year's US Open quarterfinals, Zheng's debut at that stage of a major, which Sabalenka won 6-1, 6-4.

Zheng, 21, has enjoyed a smooth upward trajectory ever since starting her pro career in earnest in 2020, taking road trips to ITF tournaments across Europe as the tennis world came out of the COVID-19 shutdown. In 2022, she made her Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open and rose from No.143 to No.25 over the course of the season.

In 2023, Zheng won her first two career titles in Palermo and Zhengzhou, breaking into the Top 20 and consequently being named the Most Improved Player of the Year in December's WTA Awards. Currently ranked No.15, she is guaranteed to debut in the Top 10 in the next edition of the WTA rankings on Monday.

Zheng becomes the fourth player born in 2002 or later to reach a Grand Slam final, following 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu, 2021 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez and Coco Gauff, the 2023 US Open champion and 2022 Roland Garros runner-up. It is the fifth tour-level final of her career; Zheng's record in the previous four is an even 2-2.

No.93-ranked Yastremska, 23, was just the fifth qualifier to reach a major semifinal in the Open Era. Having won eight matches at Melbourne Park, including two victories over Grand Slam champions, the former No.21 will rise back to her highest ranking in nearly three years inside the Top 40.

How the match was won: Zheng edged two tightly contested sets in contrasting fashions, winning the first from an early break down but having to hold a determined Yastremska off after taking the lead in the second.

The Ukrainian raced out of the blocks, punishing Zheng's second serve and finding a series of breathtaking backhand winners to go up 2-0. But her form oscillated wildly in the third game. Though she dug herself out of a 0-40 hole and had a point to lead 3-0, Yastremska tallied four double faults in that game, including on the last two points. 

Thereafter, Zheng raised her level and demonstrated superior consistency. Landing more first serves as the match went on -- from 53% in the first set to 59% in the second and winning 76% of those points, she was largely able to keep Yastremska's returns at bay. Zheng's ability to keep Yastremska on the move also proved crucial; using her heavy topspin forehand to crush the ball from corner to corner without losing accuracy, Zheng won the majority of the points of five or more strokes.

Yastremska, who required an off-court medical timeout midway through the first set after visibly struggling with her movement, made a valiant attempt to turn the match around in the second set from a break down. But after battling through two multi-deuce games to lead 3-2, Yastremska could not sustain her momentum. Zheng won 12 of the next 13 points to lead 5-3 and ultimately sent down consecutive service winners to seal victory.

Zheng on the challenge posed by Sabalenka: "I'm sure the final will be really competitive, because I think Sabalenka, she's one of the most big hitters right now in the tour. She got the most big serve, most big forehand, big backhand. She's really complete player. I haven't faced big seeded all the past round and she will be the first one I will face. But, you know, is a match, so let's see what gonna happen the final there.

"The feeling was incredible to arrive at my real first Grand Slam final. That's my dream since I was a kid. So right now for sure I'm really happy, but I know there is still another fight to go. I'm trying to control my emotion right now.

"My dream is not just the final. I'm almost there, but I know this little distance still far away. There is still something needs to go on."