Ukrainian veteran Lesia Tsurenko is enjoying the finest stretch of her career in recent months, and her latest exploits will see her contest the biggest final of her career at the Brisbane International after an upset of Naomi Osaka.
Victoria Chiesa
January 5, 2019

BRISBANE, Australia - Saturday afternoon might not have been a complete full-circle moment for Lesia Tsurenko's tennis career, but it came close.

The 29-year-old defeated US Open champion and No.2 seed Naomi Osaka in straight sets to reach her first career Premier final at the Brisbane International.

Though she stopped short of calling the performance her 'best tennis,' she again came close - and that might be because the World No.27 and the Queensland tournament boast a long history from well before she ran off each of her four wins this week.

As a 23-year-old lucky loser in 2013, Tsurenko took the place of an injured Maria Sharapova in the main draw of that year's tournament and rode her second chance all the way through to the final four: her first appearance in a WTA semifinal. 

Six years after that first major result, another milestone in Brisbane is just the latest box checked  by the Ukrainian No.2 in a stretch of firsts in her late 20s.

Read more: Tsurenko stops Osaka to reach first Premier final in Brisbane

"I think for the last seven or eight years I am in Australia for the new year. I'll be honest: everyone who's asking me, 'What is your favorite place in the world?,' I say, of course, for me, my hometown - but I [also] said always it's Australia, because I just feel that this is a happy country," she said.

"The people are very helpful. The people are very nice. Everyone looks so relaxed, and this is exactly what I like about Australia. It's always nice to come here 10 days before the tournament just to be here and to practice here. The atmosphere is really great."

Last summer, Tsurenko made her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open, upsetting then-World No.2 Caroline Wozniacki in the second round for her first career win against a Top 5 player, and she has reached at least one WTA singles final in five straight seasons after making her first at age 26.

"My career wasn't like very smooth, and now I feel that it's just great that at some point I could get to this kind of mindset and set these kind of goals for myself."
Lesia Tsurenko

By reaching the semifinals this week, Tsurenko was aleady assured of reaching a new career-best ranking, and she will rise to World No.23 should she win the title.

"Of course [reaching the Top 25] is something special for me. I never achieved this before," she said. 

"I'm really excited to [see] what I can achieve in the future. During my season preparation and also last year, my goal was to change my game and to be more aggressive and to attack every ball and to go to the net when I have a chance.

"I feel more strong now so I can kind of handle every kind of pressure on court, even when someone like Naomi is playing really strong.

"I feel better with my serve and...I am moving well, so I can really stay there and I can be aggressive also. I think that's the goal. And also, I just -- I really enjoy more playing now."

Lesia Tsurenko and WTA Future Stars, Brisbane 2019 (©Jimmie48/WTA)
Off the court, Tsurenko also met participants of the WTA Future Stars Development Camp this week. (©Jimmie48/WTA)

Though the Ukrainian will be in uncharted waters in her first-ever Premier tournament championship against either Karolina Pliskova or Donna Vekic, she has one bit of assurance to fall back on: a perfect 4-0 record in her previous WTA finals. 

"Maybe I just -- I just really feel excited to play the final. I'm not really afraid to play the final. I just go there and I enjoy," she said.

"Premier events are... a little bit different type of tournament, and you get higher ranked opponents at these tournaments. I hope to win all my finals, but let's see tomorrow. I'm sure I will be nervous a little bit, but it makes it even more exciting.

"It's the first final of a Premier. That's what I wanted to achieve last year, but it didn't happen. I'm really happy that in 2019 I went to the final at the first tournament that I played."