Leonie Kung has put together a remarkable run to the final of the Thailand Open in just her second WTA main-draw appearance – can the much more experienced Magda Linette take advantage of an untested opponent to seize her second WTA title?
Linette vs Kung is live from Hua Hin on Sunday 16 February at 5pm local/10am GMT
Poland’s Linette, 28 years old, has been playing some of the best tennis of her career over the past year, as is evident from the fact that she is now in her third WTA Tour final since last August.
Linette first broke into the top 100 at the end of 2015 after reaching her maiden WTA Tour final at the International-level Japan Women’s Open and with the exception of a few dips outside it in 2016, has remained in the top 100 ever since.
It was in 2019 however that the Pole broke into the top 50, a climb up the rankings that really began when she made the semifinals of Hua Hin last year before losing to Dayana Yastremska, the eventual champion. Linette went on to have a very good grass-court season, winning the Manchester $100k and reaching the third round of Wimbledon. In August, she qualified for the main draw at the New York Open and went on to win the title, defeating three top-50 players to do so and Camila Giorgi in the final; and her run to a third WTA Tour International-level final in Seoul in the autumn took her to a career-high ranking of world no. 41.
Linette lost three of her first four matches in 2020, going out of the Australian Open in the first round at the hands of Arantxa Rus, but turned things around during last week’s Fed Cup Group I action, going 3-0 with wins over Tamara Zidansek, Pemra Ozgen and Johanna Larsson as Poland secured promotion. Linette is now on a seven-match winning streak after making her way to the Hua Hin final via victories over Kateryna Bondarenko, Peng Shuai, Wang Xiyu and Patricia Maria Tig.
‘Coming here, I didn’t expect it. I didn’t have much time to get used to the outdoors after the Fed Cup. Maybe I put a bit less pressure on myself than usual, so I’m happy.
‘I’m surprised. I’m feeling really well. I’ve played so much. Big shout out to my coach, my fitness coach and my physio. I’m recovering really well, and out on court I’m still fresh. I’m surprised coming from Europe, where it was zero degrees.’
Leonie Kung is also pretty surprised to be in the Thailand Open final in Hua Hin.
A junior Wimbledon finalist in 2018, 19-year-old Kung was ranked outside the top 500 this time last year and would end the year ranked world no. 336 after winning an ITF $15k in Antalya, finishing runner-up at a WTA 125k in Grand Canaria and making four ITF semifinals besides, although none at any tournament above a $25k level.
Kung has played five ITF tournaments in 2020 so far, making the semifinals of $25k tournaments in Guadeloupe and Nonthaburi, and before Hua Hin she had only played the main draw of one WTA Tour event – that was Gstaad, in 2018, when she had a wildcard but lost to Johanna Larsson; Kung’s other WTA Tour experiences have been limited to losing in the first rounds of qualifying for Biel, Lugano (twice), Luxembourg and Lausanne.
So there was really nothing to indicate that Kung, currently ranked world no. 283, was poised for this run in Hua Hin. She played herself into the main draw with wins over an unranked player and the world no. 206, then faced a wildcard ranked outside the top 700 in the first round. But after losing both her previous matches against top-100 players, Kung has now beaten three in a row: World no. 70 Zhu Lin, world no. 27 Wang Qiang, and world no. 84 Nao Hibino in a rain-interrupted three-set semifinal.
Kung said she was feeling physically and mentally tired after playing so many matches at such an unaccustomed high level, so Linette, who also has experience on her side, is the clear favourite in this final and should be able to secure her second WTA Tour title in Hua Hin. But Kung’s is a name to remember for the future.