Unseeded Lesia Tsurenko has pulled off a semi-final boilover, beating US Open champion Naomi Osaka to reach her fifth and biggest career final at the Brisbane International on Saturday.
The unseeded Ukrainian – who had made the Brisbane semi-finals six years ago as a lucky loser – capitalised on an inconsistent showing from the No.2 seed to land a 6-2 6-4 victory.
“I don’t want to say that this was my best tennis, but it was quite a high level,” Tsurenko said. “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.”
Victory means she will crack the top 25 for the first time in her career, just rewards for her persistence.
“Of course this is something special for me,” Tsurenko said. “I never achieved this before. And my career wasn’t like very smooth.
“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.”
At the end of the first set, Osaka admitted to her coach, Sascha Bajin, she was feeling the weight of stress in the semi-final.
It was a far cry from the perfectly poised 21-year-old that withstood Serena Williams to capture a maiden Grand Slam title at last year’s US Open.
Upset complete! Tsurenko stuns No.2 Osaka 6-2 6-4 in an impressive display.
— #BrisbaneTennis (@BrisbaneTennis) January 5, 2019
“If I’m being really frank, I just feel like I had like the worst attitude today,” Osaka said.
The Japanese player – who will rise to a career-high world No.4 – sunk further when she doubled-faulted to hand Tsurenko the advantage at the beginning of the second.
Tsurenko brought up two match points at 5-3, but was held off when her 21-year-old opponent hit three aces and a drop-shot winner to hold.
Any hopes of Osaka repeating her quarter-final performance when she fought back from a set down against eighth-seeded Latvian Anastasija Sevastova were snuffed out in the next game.
Osaka had a chance to fight her way back into the match with the second set at 3-2, showing visible frustration when she failed to take advantage of two break points.
“I feel like I didn’t really know how to cope with not playing well,” she said. “I was sulking a little bit and like there are moments that I tried not to do that.
“But then the ball wouldn’t go in and then I would go back to being like childish and stuff.
“So I think like that was sort of my main problem today.”
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@Naomi_Osaka_) January 5, 2019
While the performance may not boost her confidence ahead of the Australian Open in just over a week, Osaka was seeing it as far from a sign of vulnerability.
“I feel like in a way that this experience for me is better than winning the tournament,” she said.
“This helpless feeling I have, I think today I learned sort of what I have to do to not fix it, but what I can do to like improve the situation. I feel like today was a very valuable lesson.”
Tsurenko ultimately blasted 20 winners to go one better than her semi-final appearance in Brisbane in 2013.
She awaits the winner of Saturday night’s second semi-final between Donna Vekic and 2017 champion Karolina Pliskova.
Tickets are still available via Ticketek to Sunday’s blockbuster finals session with the men’s singles, women’s singles and men’s doubles titles on the line. Category B tickets are now just $99 for adults, $80 for children 16 and under.