Elise Mertens: ‘I’m Motivated To Do Well This Week’

Elise Mertens (photo: @jtbankaostravaopen video)

WASHINGTON, October 21, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

No. 7 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium showed the importance that playing from ahead can have on the outcome of a match. It made a difference in her 6-2, 6-3 first-round victory over No. 30 Amanda Anisimova of the United States at the WTA Premier J&T Banka Ostrava Open in Ostrava, Czech Republic on Wednesday.

The Belgian’s serve was not broken during the 72-minute match on the slow playing Ostravar Arena’s Center Court. She saved all five break-point chances she faced and with each one that she swept aside, the frustration in Anisimova’s face became more obvious. It seemed there was nothing the 19-year-old American could do to frazzle Mertens, 24, who maintained her focus throughout.

A pivotal point in the match came after Mertens had broken Anisimova’s serve for the third time to go ahead 3-2 in the second set. During the 12-point sixth game, Mertens dug in deep and saved three break points to hold for a 4-2 advantage.

“I think it was very important to hold my serve because she was attacking my second serve,” Mertens told Tennis TourTalk during a video conversation following her win. “[Amanda] is a good ball striker, so you really have to pay attention every point. She can make some good points, but she can make some errors, too. For me, it was important to get the balance and get those balls back in and try to be more aggressive in the rallies. So, definitely, holding my serve in the second set in a tight game, I think, made a difference.”

From that point, Mertens never looked back. She went on to secure the win on her second match-point opportunity three games later. Merens is now unbeaten in two career head-to-head matches against Anisimova.

Mertens, who is 8-2 in her last 10 hard-court matches, moves on to play unseeded No. 28 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic in Thursday’s second round with a berth in Friday’s quarterfinal round at stake.

Prior to arriving in Ostrava, following her third-round loss to France’s Caroline Garcia at Roland Garros, Mertens took a few days off, then returned to her usual routine of fitness and tennis every day. “It’s my vision to improve myself as much as I can,” she said. “I’m motivated to do well this week and I hope I can go further.”

Looking back on the past couple of months, Mertens has been one of the busiest competitors on the WTA Tour. Ostrava is her seventh tournament since the August restart of the women’s tour. “I didn’t really have expectations because you never really know what to expect when you haven’t played for five months and the other girls have played for five months,” she said.

After losing in the first round in Palermo on clay, Mertens was a finalist in Prague, a semifinalist at the Western & Southern Open in New York, a quarterfinalist in the US Open and at Rome, and reached the third round in the French Open.

“After Palermo, I felt the rhythm, again, and the speed [of the court] and vision of how I wanted to play,” said Mertens, whose 29 wins is tied with 19th-ranked Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan for first place in the WTA this year. “The more matches you play, the more you get the rhythm.”

While Mertens is entered to play the final WTA Tour tournament of the season in Linz, Austria, next month, Ostrava could represent her last competition of the season. “I’m still motivated to play Linz and motivated to play here. We’ll see week by week.”

Sakkari topples top seed Svitolina

Unseeded Maria Sakkari of Greece reached her third WTA Premier quarterfinal of the year after upsetting top seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, 6-3, 6-3, Wednesday night.

The 23rd-ranked Sakkari broke the World No. 5 Svitolina five times during their one hour and 16-minute match on Ostravar Arena’s Center Court. The 25-year-old Athens native hit 32 winners en route to her fourth career victory over a Top 5 player.

While Svitolina struggled with her service games – winning just 28 percent of her second serves – Sakkari fared better, winning 83 percent (24 of 29) of her first-serve points. She dropped just 17 points during her nine service games. Sakkari outpointed Svitolina 65-46.

“Obviously, winning a match against a player like Elina – and the way I played – is what made me happy the most,” Sakkari said. “Playing like this gives me a lot of confidence. Getting another Top 5 win is very important to me.”

Sakkari will face either Jelena Ostapenko or Ons Jabeur in Friday’s quarterfinal round.

Azarenka, Ostapenko advance; Kontaveit upset

• After dropping the first set, No. 4 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus stormed back to prevail over No. 85 Barbora Krejcikova from the Czech Republic, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, in two hours and 13 minutes. Azarenka’s sixth ace, hit straight up the middle of the court, put an emphatic coda on her second-round victory. She dropped just three games after the opening set. It was the fourth time this season that Azarenka has rallied from a set down to win.

“[Barbora] started so well and played so loose,”Azarenka said during a videoconference chat after her win. The Belarusian faced 16 break points during the match of which half of them came in the opening set.“I don’t think I played bad, but she was one step ahead – everything was working [for her].

“What helped me was I understood and I had to change and adapt. My usual shots where I’m able to take a lot of time wasn’t working, so I had to adapt and find a new tactic. I knew I had to be more aggressive and come in a little more and impose myself more effectively. More than anything, my fighting spirit brought me into the match more and I picked up my game from [the first set].”

Azarenka broke Krejcikova four times and outpointed her 91-81 in advancing to Friday’s quarterfinal round against either Elise Mertens or Karolina Muchova.

• Unseeded and 44th-ranked Jelena Ostapenko took control of her match against No. 5 seed Petra Martic from early on and upset the 18th-ranked Croatian 6-3, 6-1 with an impressive performance in just under an hour. From 0-2 down in the first set, Ostapenko won five straight games to take a commanding lead. She finished the first set with 20 winners. Soon, the Latvian closed out her win with an emphatic winner. Ostapenko, who dropped just 19 points on her serve, outpointed Martic 59-38 to move into Thursday’s second round against No. 32 Ons Jabeur from Tunisia.

“I think I played really well today,” Ostapenko said. “It took me a few games to get used to the hard court. I didn’t give [Petra] any chances to play her game. I played very sharp, using drop shots and mixing it up a little bit. In the deciding moments I was very aggressive.”

• Seventy-third-ranked Spanish qualifier Sara Sorribes Tormo reached the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-4 upset of No. 8 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia. The victory advanced Sorribes Tormo, who is an impressive 10-2 in her last 12 matches, into her first Premier quarterfinal on Friday against either No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka or No. 55 Coco Gauff.