Zhu Lin's tremendous start to 2023 continued at the Thailand Open presented by E@, where the 29-year-old captured her first Hologic WTA Tour title with a 6-4, 6-4 defeat of Lesia Tsurenko in a 1-hour, 45-minute final.
"I’m super happy to win my first title here in Hua Hin," Zhu said afterwards. "Lesia, she’s a fighter, she never gives up, so I needed to give 100 percent and I needed to be more patient, especially towards the end.
"I [felt] a little bit nervous, but I know it’s normal, so I had to handle that, I had to attack when I’d have a chance, because she’s not going to give this match to me. I’m super happy I did it."
Last month, Zhu served notice of her improved form by reaching the Auckland quarterfinals and the Australian Open fourth round, scoring wins over Maria Sakkari and Venus Williams en route. After pushing Victoria Azarenka to three sets in the Melbourne last 16, the former World No.1 predicted that Zhu could be a future Top 20 player.
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That milestone is getting closer. At a career high of No.54 coming into Hua Hin, Zhu's title run will see the Chinese player make her Top 50 debut next week.
"At the beginning of this year, my goal for me and my team was to break the Top 50, and win a WTA title," Zhu said. "Now it’s only February and I already did it, so maybe I have to talk with my team to adjust for the rest of the season. I’m looking forward to it!"
The moment Lin Zhu became a first-time WTA title holder in Hua Hin 🤗 pic.twitter.com/TeihJ535Jh— wta (@WTA) February 5, 2023
Zhu had previously won one WTA 125 title, at Seoul 2021, but prior to this week had only made two semifinals at main tour level, at Kuala Lumpur 2016 and Nanchang 2018. Having dropped just one set in Hua Hin, in the first round to No.3 seed Wang Xiyu, Zhu's record this season now stands at 10-3.
Former World No.23 Tsurenko, who has struggled with injuries in recent years, was contesting her first final since Brisbane 2019. The 33-year-old's overall record this season is 10-2 (4-2 at tour level), and she will also receive a significant boost from her current No.136 ranking.
How Zhu won the final: Much of the final was nailbitingly close, and the pair combined for 14 breaks of serve throughout the contest: eight for Zhu against six for Tsurenko. It was the Ukrainian, contesting her sixth WTA final to Zhu's first, who found her range faster. Tsurenko broke in the first game, and held two points for a 3-0 double break.
But Zhu inched her way back into the match after winning a pair of tight multi-deuce games, and through the end of the first set and start of the second took control with bolder and more varied shotmaking. In total, Zhu found 22 winners to Tsurenko's nine, including a fizzing forehand down the line to seal the first set and a backhand crosscourt to break for 3-1 in the second.
The closing stages were an edgier affair as the final concluded with a run of seven consecutive breaks. The rallies became lengthier as both players opted for a conservative approach. But though Zhu was unable to consolidate her break advantage, she rebounded with positive play on return each time. Serving for the title at 5-3, she missed a forehand by inches on her first championship point, and was ultimately broken after a four-deuce tussle.
But Zhu made no mistake in the next game, coming up with three clean winners -- including a backhand drive volley on her third championship point -- to break Tsurenko for the title.
Chan, Wu take doubles title
Zhu was unable to add the doubles trophy to her singles triumph, though. The unseeded Chinese Taipei pairing of Chan Hao-Ching and Wu Fang-Hsien defeated Zhu and Wang Xinyu 6-1, 7-6(6) after saving one set point in the second-set tiebreak.
Chan collected the 19th WTA title of her career, and first since Osaka 2019, which she won with older sister Latisha. This week saw the younger Chan defeat No.4 seeds Latisha and Alexa Guarachi 1-6, 6-4, [10-7] in the semifinals, levelling the overall head-to-head between the siblings at three wins apiece.
Wu, 23, previously had one WTA 125 title to her name -- Taipei 2019 alongside Lee Ya-Hsuan -- but was competing in her first main tour final. However, Wu has now won 25 of her past 26 matches dating back to last November and encompassing four ITF titles at the end of 2022.
Wang and Zhu fell to 1-2 in WTA finals together, having previously won Nanchang 2019 and been runners-up at Guadalajara 2022.