Three weeks ago, Aryna Sabalenka and Elise Mertens stood on the same side of the net as they dispatched Louisa Stefani and Gabriela Dabrowski to win the doubles championship at the J&T Bank Open in Ostrava.
Today the pair were both looking to finish their seasons off with a bang, but instead of playing together, the pair would face off on opposite sides of the net at the finals of the Linz Open.
After a tightly contested first set, it was Sabalenka who triumphed, besting her doubles partner and good friend Mertens in straight sets, to win 7-5 6-2.
The win will become the No.1 seed’s third singles title this year after winning in Doha in February and claiming both the doubles and the singles titles at Ostrava.
Sabalenka came into the final on an 8 match winning streak but had to dig deep to secure her spot in the finals to win against Czech Barbora Krejcikova, who posed her biggest challenge en route to the final.
The Belarusian looked to use her power and precision to take an early lead against Mertens, who had a slightly more bumpy route to the final.
Admirably battling her way through the field, the No.2 seed showed her resilience to fight back after going one set down to both Anhelina Kalinina and Ekaterina Alexandrova.Embed from Getty Images
And having spent less time on court over the week, Sabalenka was a little fresher coming into the final, but fatigue didn’t show as the finalists struggled to break away from each other in what was a mammoth first set that lasted 1 hour and 9 minutes.
“The first set was really tight,” Mertens conceded after the match. “She’s a very powerful player, so it’s difficult to get in a neutral position.”
Sabalenka struck first, winning the first game and breaking Mertens to go two games up.
But the Belgian responded immediately, breaking Sabalenka’s resulting serve to draw level.
The stalemate continued until the the score reaced 5-5 where Sabalenka started to find her grove.
The Belarusian went 40:15 up at the start of the 11th game, but what followed was a titanic stand-off with Mertens clawing her way back into the game to initiate a stalemate that saw 7 deuces and 3 breakpoints.
Despite her resilience, Mertens failed to capitalize on three breakpoints, handing the game to her opponent, who went on to break Mertens in the final game to win the first set.
“It was a really tough set, so I’m happy to have been able to handle it because that helped me be freer in the second. I was much more relaxed in the second set,” Mertens said after the match.
Sabalenka snowballed more momentum, placing even more pressure on her Belgian playing partner, to win three games on the bounce at the start of the second set.
Having not won a singles title since February 2019, Mertens fought hard to win back two games from the Belarusian, but it was too little too late.
Sabalenka remained clinical, breaking Mertens twice in the final set, dispatching her opponent with a number of well-placed cross-court ground shots and secured her third singles title of the year.
“There were lots of ups and down, but she (Mertens) was playing well. I led with a break but she kept fighting for every point. There was always pressure, and we were putting pressure on each other, so it was hard to strike a balance,” Sabalenka said after the match.
Despite the pair winning the 2019 U.S. Open women’s doubles championships, both are yet to win a grand slam singles title, although considering their current form, next year could be a breakthrough year.
With the Australian Open just 2 months away, and Sabalenka currently firing on all cylinders, we’re backing the 22-year-old Belarusian to be a very strong contender for next year’s singles title down under.
“At Grand Slams, I would think about how big they are, and put a lot of pressure on myself. I’ll try not to do that again, and know that everything I have to do is just go on court, bring my level, and give everything I have. That’s what I’ll focus on, on what I can control.”
For now, the final at Linz wraps up a very successful season for both players, with Sabalenka overtaking Serena Williams to move up to No.10 in the WTA world rankings while Mertens will climb up one spot to finish the year as world No.20.
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