WATCH: Zhu kicked off the 2023 season with a statement victory over Venus Williams in Auckland.


Though fielded by fan votes, the 2015 WTA Rising Stars Invitational ended up foreshadowing much of what was to come from the next generation of women’s tennis. Naomi Osaka, Caroline Garcia, and Ons Jabeur have all evolved into Top 4 talents, but the fourth member of that quartet went largely forgotten until this year’s Australian Open.

Zhu Lin is making up for lost time in some style in Melbourne, scoring her first-ever Top 10 victory to join countrywoman Zhang Shuai in the fourth round, where two-time champion Victoria Azarenka awaits.

Can the Chinese veteran keep her dream run going?

The Basics

Zhu would make her Grand Slam main draw debut in 2015, but her first season on tour was highlighted by a controversial match with Francesca Schiavone at that year’s BNP Paribas Open. Up set point on the former Roland Garros champion, the then-teenager appeared to benefit from a clear double bounce that umpire Ali Nili failed to call—much to Schiavone’s frustration.

At the time, Zhu was on the cusp of cracking the Top 100, but she wouldn’t ultimately cross that threshold until 2019. After peaking at No. 70 the following year, the COVID-19 pandemic stunted her progress and saw her tumble to a low of No. 142 in 2021 before a late-season rebound saw her win her first WTA 125K title in Seoul.

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

The Latest

That result set the stage for Zhu to make further in-roads in 2022, where she would win a 100K ITF Pro Circuit title in Landisville, Pennslyvania and win her first match at a WTA 1000 tournament since 2019 in Guadalajara.

Despite a 6-1, 6-2 loss to Daria Kasatkina, the 28-year-old was buoyed by the result and eager to carry that momentum into 2023.

"After the match I thought why can't believe in myself more and play better tennis?" she told WTA Insider.

Known as “The Playwright” by her fans for her unpredictability in matches, Zhu has become much more reliable as of this Aussie summer, defeating Venus Williams in Auckland and scoring back-to-back straight-set wins over Rebecca Marino and No. 32 seed Jil Teichmann before pulling off the biggest win of her career over Maria Sakkari, 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-4.

“It means a lot,” she said after the match. “I mean, like, make me believe that I can, like, play at this level and I can be 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. Yeah, let's keep going!”


Why It Matters

Zhu will get that opportunity on Saturday, albeit against an in-form Azarenka, but her run to the second week has already set her up for more success this season. Up to a tentative career-high of No. 54, she will have to play far fewer qualifying rounds at WTA tournaments, and will even have shots to be seeded at WTA 250 events.

More importantly, her run is another inspiring example of athletes coming into their own in their own time, that it is indeed “never too late to be what you might have been.”