WATCH: Caroline Garcia beat Camila Osorio in straight sets to ease into the final of her home tournament in Lyon.

Sunday’s lineup of WTA finals features a pair of matches at tournaments located nearly 6,000 miles from one another. Between them, these two events will provide the players with more than $500,000 in prize money. Contrast that with the early days of women's tennis, half a century ago. The first full-fledged women’s pro tour, then known as the Virginia Slims Circuit, had just begun its third full year. Only one event took place that week in February 1973, a tournament located in Bethesda, Md. with a total purse of $25,000. Of the four semifinalists, the geographic reach was limited and typical for its time: two Australians, two Americans.

It's all very different now. Hua Hin, Thailand is the setting for a match between two unseeded veterans: Zhu Lin from China and a Ukrainian, Lesia Tsurenko. Lyon, France hosts the Open 6e Sens Metropole de Lyon. That final will pit rapidly-rising American Alycia Parks versus France’s Caroline Garcia, the world No. 5 who regards Lyon as her home city. It adds up to a day starring players from four nations, three continents, and several storylines that could prove even richer as 2023 unfolds.

Thailand Open final features two surprising veterans

The Zhu-Tsurenko match validates the increasingly frequent reality that pro tennis careers are lasting longer. Zhu turned 29 just last month and is playing the first singles final of her career. Tsurenko is 33. This is her sixth career singles final (she’s won four of her previous five), but first since 2018.

Barely a month into the tennis year, Zhu has taken major steps forward. In the second round of Auckland, she beat Venus Williams, 7-5 in the third. At the Australian Open, after never going past the second round in 13 prior Slams, Zhu reached the round of 16, along the way beating formidable opponents such as the powerful Rebecca Marino, the versatile Jil Teichmann and, most notably, world No. 6, Maria Sakkari.

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


Beaten by the resurgent Victoria Azarenka in Melbourne, Zhu dropped the opener of her first round match in Hua Hin, but since then has yet to drop a set. Ranked No. 140 at the end of 2021, Zhu now stands at a career-high of No. 54.

Ranked as high as No. 23 in February 2019, Tsurenko has stumbled in recent years to a current spot of No. 136. Little was particularly encouraging for her as 2023 began. Though Tsurenko won three matches in the Australian Open qualifying, she swiftly lost her opening main draw match to Karolina Muchova, 6-2, 6-1. But in Hua Hin, Tsurenko has played superbly, beating three seeds, including a 6-1, 6-1 rout of 2022 Wimbledon semifinalist Tatjana Maria and, in Saturday’s semifinal, an impressive comeback versus the No. 1 seed, 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu. Down 3-5 in the first set, Tsurenko continued to strike the ball with significant depth and pace, rattling off eight straight games before the Canadian opted to halt play due to a shoulder injury.

“I was just fighting,” Tsurenko told the courtside interviewer following that 7-5, 4-0 victory.

Zhu and Tsurenko have only played each other once, Tsurenko winning a three-setter four years ago in Dubai.


Live from Lyon: Power and Passion

One fascinating aspect of the storylines for both Garcia and Parks is how each soared up the ranks in the last half of 2022. A former top tenner, Garcia was barely inside the Top 80 last May before completely turning her entire career around by winning four singles titles, including the WTA Finals. Parks, ranked outside the Top 150 as recently as last September, caught fire late in the year. Her most notable efforts were a pair of title runs in December at WTA 125 events in Andorra and Angiers, France. She’s currently ranked No. 79.

You might recall Parks making a splash at the 2021 US Open, when she hit a record-tying 129 mph serve during her first-round loss. A far wider range of skills have taken Parks to the final in Lyon. Besides the serve, excellent movement, powerful groundstrokes, a few terrific drop shots, and several crisp volleys were all in play during her 6-3, 7-6(4) semifinal win over Maryna Zanevska. As straight-set victories go, though, this one had many nail-biting moments.

Serving at 5-1, 40–0 in the first set, Parks lost the next two games and only closed out the opener on her fifth set point. Similar drama came in the next set. Serving at 5-4, 30-15, Parks feathered a backhand drop shot that deftly clipped the net. But with two match points in hand, Parks was unable to close out the match. Two games later, she served at 5-6, 15-40 – and then went on to win 11 of the next 15 points.


“I’ve worked hard for this moment,” Parks said after the match.

As 2023 began, Garcia surely had high expectations. In addition to those tournament titles, at the US Open, she’d beaten the likes of Andreescu and Coco Gauff to reach the singles semis of a major for the first time. Seeded fourth at the Australian Open, Garcia was upset by No. 45 Magda Linette in the round of 16.

“Yeah, you always try to get the lesson about your losses and try to make [it] better,” Garcia said following that defeat. “Sometimes it's difficult. Sometimes it's not. Depends what I've been wrong, but you'll always try to learn from your mistakes.”

A significant catalyst for Garcia’s turnaround came when she and fellow Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic won the doubles title at Roland Garros. The combination of a major victory on home soil, and the forward movement of doubles, lit a spark inside Garcia: the need to maximize her attacking skills, be it standing inside the baseline to return serve, direct her groundstrokes powerfully, or charge the net frequently. On Garcia’s best days during these last six months, she has been absolutely electric. Such was very much the case on Saturday during Garcia’s 72-minute, 6-2, 6-2 semifinal win over Camila Osorio, who in the first round had upset third-seeded Alizé Cornet.

Garcia and Parks also figure to recall the positives from their only previous meeting. They met in August 2021, in the first round of qualifying in Cincinnati. Garcia won, but by the kind of score that should also encourage Parks: 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. Count on plenty of power and fire in Garcia-Parks II.