No.2 seed Elise Mertens didn’t have a straightforward route to her first Austrian Open final.
After holding on to beat Ekaterina Alexandrova, 6-2 1-6 5-7, the Belgian will now take on either the unseeded Barbora Krejčíková or her doubles partner Arnya Sabalenka on Sunday.
Making a comeback to beat Anhelina Kalinina in round 32 and dropping a set to Vera Zvonareva in the following round, Mertens has shown great resilience to battle her way through to get to the final of the Austrian Open.
And while her straight-set quarterfinals win over Veronika Kudermetova should have given her some momentum going into the semi-final, she was slow to start against the world No.33, whose powerful service game asked questions of Mertens in the opening stages of the game.
But Mertens’ head dropped as her Russian opponent used her power to sweep her away in the first set, winning five games in a row to gain the advantage in the match.
4th seed, Alexandrova, got her 2020 season off to a flying start after she beat Elena Rybakina at the Shenzhen Open back in January and was looking to cap off her year with a blinding finish, after not dropping a single set on her way to the semi-finals.
And in the opening stages of the match she seemed to be heading in that direction, dominating 50% of her return points, Alexandrova was clinical in her response to Mertens’ serve which left something to be desired, hitting 4 double faults in the first set of the match.
After being on the ropes for most of the first set, Mertens left the court at the break to compose herself.
She came back immediately more relaxed and it showed as she broke the Russian’s service game to win a quartet of games at the start of the second set.
Playing some delightful slice shots that moved Alexandrova out of position, Mertens found her rhythem and clinically dispatched the Russian in a quick turn around set, that saw her respond powerfully to the Russian’s belting serve.
Alexandrova waned on court as she was only able to take one game off the Belgian, but fought back the Belgian’s advances in the final set, after she, like Mertens, left the court during the intermission to compose herself.
The pair traded breakpoints in the opening games of the deciding set, with Mertens taking first blood, and ramping up the heat to draw away from the Russian 3 games to 1.
And the pressure showed on court with both players struggling to win points on their first serve, with Mertens making 6 double faults in the final set.
While it looked as though Mertens was about to charge her way to victory, Alexandrova posed a gallant fight back, drawing the match level on 5 games apiece after she broke Merten’s service, placing an unreachable shot that caught the narrowest slither of the inside tramline to pull herself back into the match.
Yet despite her efforts, Alexandrova’s head dropped in the final two games, as Mertens ramped up the heat to break Alexandrova’s serve again to go 6-5 up and force her opponent to overcook a deep backhand to win the match.
Mertens has played some of her best tennis this year following the COVID-19 restart, reaching the finals of the Prague Open and semi-finals of the Western & Southern Open in August, while reaching the quarter-finals of the U.S. Open in September.
She’ll now be hoping to go one better and claim her first title of the year on Sunday at the Austrian Open.
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