It was one of the most lasting images of the first week of this year’s Australian Open: Serena Williams consoling Dayana Yastremska at the net after their third-round match, which the 23-time Grand Slam champion won easily.
Whatever Williams said to the Ukrainian appears to have inspired her as she won her first tournament since that match, defeating Ajla Tomljanovic in the final of the Thailand Open in Hua Hin.
After winning the first set easily 6-2, Yastremska lost the next by the same score and was down 5-2 in the third. She took a medical timeout, then won the next four games before Tomljanovic forced a tiebreak. Yastremska was able to make a quick reset and eased through a rather straightforward breaker 7-3 to clinch the title.
Last summer, Yastremska became the first woman born in the 2000s to enter the top 100, but her rankings ascent kicked off in earnest in October. As the season neared its end, she captured the first title of her career in Hong Kong, defeating Shuai Zhang in the semifinals and halting the charge of one of the hottest players on tour at the time, Qiang Wang, in the championship match.
Yastremska then stretched her winning streak to eight matches with a final-four showing in Luxembourg. En route to the semis there, she topped two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza in the second round.
Yastremska, seeded eighth in Hua Hin, picked up her second win over top-seeded Muguruza in the span of a few months. That also marked her third victory in 2019 over a former member of the top 10: In Melbourne, she topped 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur in the first round, then followed that up with a win over former world No. 6 Carla Suarez Navarro, who was seeded 23rd at the tournament.
With her confidence at a high, Yastremska ran into a player that’s arguably the greatest of all time, and only managed to take three games. It was a harsh lesson for the teenager, but if her Hua Hin run was any indication, she’s a good student.