Elise Mertens has to turn her heart into a stone at the Australian Open: “It will be difficult”

A new year, a new coaching staff and an Elise Mertens (WTA 32) who is back on track. At the Australian Open she won her second match against the American Lauren Davis, number 57 in the world and also winner of the Hobart preparatory tournament: 6-4, 6-3. “I am especially happy that I won in two sets,” said Mertens. “I didn’t quite get into my game, but served well and got a lot of points in a gift box. It wasn’t my best game, but it was enough.”

Again, at least the 1/16th finals of a grand slam tournament in the pocket for Mertens, now for the nineteenth (!) time in her last twenty grand slam tournaments. The Happy Slam is Mertens. At the Australian Open, she reached the 1/16th finals in the past three years, even reaching the semi-finals on her debut down-under in 2018.

Elise Mertens. — © AP


She even won the Australian Open once. In doubles then, a grand slam success as a ‘farewell trophy’. In 2021 she shone with the Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka by her side, even then they had mutually agreed that Sabalenka wanted to turn the collaboration on the back burner. Even if they had already won the US Open together. And not because it didn’t click anymore, on the contrary. Well, because Sabalenka felt that the combination double-single cost a little too much energy. She wanted to see how far she would go if she focused only on singles, where she was in the top ten. Sabalenka, then: “In a doubles match you always give everything. I want to do it differently. We’ll see how that turns out.”

Not so bad, to put it with an understatement. Sabalenka stormed through to the absolute world top: in 2021 she finished number two in the world, today she is number five. Just like in 2021, she has already won six games in a row at the start of the season. For the 1/8th finals at the Australian Open, she will play against… Mertens on Friday.

“Aryna and I are friends on the court,” said our compatriot. “I see her almost every week and we always catch up. Of course we both do our own thing and try to win our matches. I know how she plays, she knows how I play. No doubt it will be difficult. She recently won the Adelaide tournament, so she is on fire and has a lot of self confidence. But I can also get out of the corner. She is powerful, but I will try to take every opportunity.”

Aryna Sabalenka. — © BELGIUM

Combo single-double

Mertens knows Sabalenka through and through and she has no shortage of self-confidence. “To be honest, I don’t look at anyone,” Sabalenka said. “Only to myself. I was always an aggressive player. I like to finish it quickly.” In their head-to-head encounters, Sabalenka leads 6-2, winning the past four matches.

Unlike Sabalenka, Mertens continued to bet on the single-double combo. With success, incidentally: with her new doubles partner, the Taiwanese Su-Wei Hsieh, she won her third grand slam tournament at Wimbledon. With the Russian Veronika Kudermetova she won the WTA Finals at the end of last year. Mertens has now teamed up with the Australian Storm Sanders.

But isn’t Sabalenka the most telling example that full betting on singles pays off? And wouldn’t she be able to take her ankle career to an even higher level? It is not the first time that the question has been asked and just as many times Mertens sticks to her philosophy: the combination works for her. “I can bring a lot of things into doubles that help me in my singles matches. I think the combination is just positive.”

Aryna Sabalenka. — © ISOPIX

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