MELBOURNE, Australia -- China's Zhu Lin reached her first Round of 16 appearance at a Slam with a 7-6(3), 1-6, 6-4 win against No.6 Maria Sakkari. 

It was Zhu's first win against a Top 10 player. On Sunday, she will face  Victoria Azarenka in the fourth round. 

Zhu is one of two Chinese women into the Round of 16 in Melbourne, joining 23rd seed Zhang Shuai. 

"I'm really happy to see two Chinese girls we can make to the first round and also because we know each other so many years, and I know how hard she's working," Zhang said. "Also, a couple of years ago I already feeling she play unbelievable good, but she's always ranking around 100. 

"After Australia Open last year, she lost first round the qualies, we went to St. Petersburg in Russia. When we talking about the tennis, the life, she feeling so tough and couldn't go home. She cry and then she don't know how can continue. She missed the family."

Zhu, 28, is playing in her 28th Slam main draw, and while the result may have come as a surprise to some, close observers have seen Zhu's steady improvement over the past six months. 

"It means a lot," Zhu said after her victory. "Makes me believe that I can play at this level and I can beat a player like her.

"It took me a long way to get here, and so that's why I'm so emotional tonight. This is not the end. Let's keep going."

She participated in the 2015 WTA Rising Stars event with Naomi Osaka

Any young, talented player in China is going to feel the pressure of becoming the next Li Na and Zhu was no exception. But her idol growing up wasn't Li Na. It was crafty Swiss Martina Hingis. 

"She played so smart," Zhu said. "I liked the way she played."

Day 6 from the Australian Open

Her talent did not go unnoticed as a youngster. As a 20-year-old she was tapped to play the WTA's Rising Stars Invitational at the WTA Finals in Singapore, putting her alongside Naomi Osaka, Ons Jabeur, and Caroline Garcia. Osaka would go on to win the event, but Zhu got an opportunity to have a heart-to-heart with Li Na during the week. 

"She said something to me that was really inspiring. She said, 'You can do it, you just need to trust yourself.'"

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"There was a lot up and downs. Even sometimes I think about maybe I'm not good enough for tennis. I thought about retiring sometimes."

Zhu thought about retiring

It was a long and tough road for Zhu Lin. Her transition to the pro tour was a struggle. She chased her Top 100 debut but fell short until just four years ago in 2019. Toiling away on the lower levels without posting consistent results left her  wondering if tennis was the path for her.

"There was a lot up and downs. Even sometimes I think about maybe I'm not good enough for tennis. I thought about retiring sometimes.

"But my family, my friends, they always talked to me. They believed I can be a better player, so they pushed me every day to become a better person. I really appreciate it." 

Her turning point came in Guadalajara last fall

Zhu would begin to build momentum in 2022, her best season to date. She reached a career-high No.58 and says the turning point came at the Akron Guadalajara Open in October. There, after posting a win over Alizé Cornet in the first round, she fell to Daria Kasatkina 6-1, 6-2.
 
"I lost but every game was so close, lots of rallies," Zhu said. "After the match I thought why can't believe in myself more and play better tennis?"

"After that match I start to believe in myself. I need to be more aggressive and believe. That's so important in tennis. Sometimes just a click can change everything."

Auckland: Zhu Lin saves key break points en route to win over Venus Williams

2023 Auckland

She defeated Venus Williams in the first week of the year

Zhu opened her 2023 campaign at the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand with a win against Venus Williams. After saving match point to defeat Madison Brengle in the first round, she came back from 5-3 in the third set to defeat Williams to advance to the quarterfinals. 

"I watched her play when I was a kid," Zhu said. "Playing against her is such an honor. To be able to beat her is so special. 

"Even though she is not the way she was before, it was tough to have the courage to beat her. It really means a lot to me. It was a rollercoaster."

She tortures her fans with her matches

Zhu Lin has a reputation among her fans for dramatic three-set matches. They've even given her a nickname, "The Playwright," because you never know whether the match will be a feel-good comedy or a heartbreaking tragedy.

After defeating Sakkari by coming back from a break down in the final set, Zhu addressed her fans in Chinese. 

"I'm glad today is a comedy," she said.