Belgian teenager Yanina Wickmayer capped a remarkable tennis journey when she reached her first semifinals in a Grand Slam at the U.S. Open on Wednesday.
In a debut of unseeded Grand Slam quarterfinalists, Wickmayer, 19, rallied from 4-1 down in the second set to beat Kateryna Bondarenko 7-5, 6-4 in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
As a 9-year-old girl, Wickmayer recalls putting labels on the furniture she planned to take to America.
Her mother had died of cancer a week earlier, and she decided - all on her own - that she needed a fresh start: leave her native Belgium to attend a Florida tennis academy. She did research on the Internet and informed her father Marc they were moving.
No matter that she had only recently begun playing the sport, or that neither of them spoke English.
Marc Wickmayer said yes.
A decade later, he came to America to watch his daughter reach her first Grand Slam semifinal.
“This is a great moment,” Marc Wickmayer said. “But every moment with Yanina is a great moment.”
Ranked 50th, Wickmayer had never made it past the second round at a Grand Slam tournament. She joins fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters in the semis and will face another teen - No. 9 seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, who is also 19. Wozniacki eliminated 17-year-old American Melanie Oudin on Wednesday.
On this day in Flushing Meadows, Wickmayer rallied to win the last five games of the second set and close out the 52nd-ranked Ukrainian. That fighting spirit was forged through tragedy - and the way she and her father endured.
“I know what life is, and maybe I’m older in my head than some people think,” she said. “Sometimes it’s not easy for me, because sometimes I wish I could be a girl from 19 and just enjoy, you know. But I guess that’s life.”