Elise Mertens starts season with two new coaches: “I keep combining single and double”

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Elise Mertens started the new year with a win for Belgium in the United Cup. And that with new coach Alexander Kneepkens on the sidelines. What will not change in 2023: Mertens continues to aim for the top twenty and bets on the combination of singles and doubles.

Gunther De Vos in Perth

Elise Mertens did not have to wait long for her first victory of 2023. Even before noon on New Year’s Day, she beat Bulgarian Topalova 6-4, 3-6 and 6-0 at the United Cup in Perth, Australia. “It wasn’t quite the way I wanted it to be,” said Mertens. “But I am happy that I was able to win that first match. My next match is now against Maria Sakkari (number six in the world, ed.). A duel against a top ten player, that is always good to learn from for the rest of the season.”

Mertens was assisted from the sidelines by the Belgian team captain Kirsten Flipkens and by Alexander Kneepkens. Mertens also coached the latter in 2022 between collaborations with Simon Goffin and Philippe Dehaes. After Mertens and Dehaes decided to separate in November, Kneepkens came into the picture again.

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“This is not a temporary but a longer collaboration,” says Mertens. “I play at Tenkie’s academy (Wilson Luxilon Tenkie Academy in Hasselt, red.). There I work with Alexander and Seppe Cuypers, who will also travel to Australia. I think we have a good team. I also worked with Alexander for a while last year and he also went to a few tournaments.”

You had several coaches over the years. On what basis did you choose this collaboration?

“Alexander is someone who understands women’s tennis. He is tactically very good and very compassionate. I also think that’s important, because you spend almost more time with your coach than with your family. So it really has to click and I do have that feeling.”

What are your ambitions and goals for the coming months?

“Of course I try to peak at the grand slams. And therefore to get my ranking up a bit again.”

You are now 29th. Then what are you aiming for?

“I think around twentieth place. Top twenty would be nice. I realize there is still some work to do to achieve that again. But nothing is impossible.”

Mertens with Goffin at the United Cup. — ©  Getty Images

Several tennis analysts point to your busy schedule because you combine singles and doubles. That gave you grand slam win in doubles, but can be at the expense of your performance in singles.

“I get asked that question a lot. But I just think the doubles is positive. I can train a lot of things in doubles that will help me in my singles matches. I keep combining it.”

So you don’t feel it takes too much effort?

“‘No. Certainly not. I’m still young, so it should work, right?”

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