MELBOURNE, Australia -- The magical run by Elise Mertens in 2018 keeps on going, as the top player from Belgium dominated World No.4 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, 6-4, 6-0, on Monday, to become the first player to advance to the semifinals at the Australian Open this year.
"I was in the zone today," said an excited Mertens in her post-match press conference. "It was a really great match. I played really well, so I'm really happy."
World No.37 Mertens continues her undefeated season after defending her title at the Hobart International to start the year, reeling off five more victories in her debut appearance in the Melbourne main draw to extend her winning streak to nine consecutive matches.
"Of course, [being] offensive was really important today," said Mertens. "[Svitolina is] a great mover. She gets a lot of balls back. So I tried to step forward and come to the net a bit more."
The Belgian, who had never been beyond the third round at a major prior to this event, advances to her first Grand Slam semifinal. Mertens missed the Australian Open last year after being unable to play the qualifying, as she was still playing -- and eventually winning -- the Hobart International for her first career title.
Mertens will now play the winner of the night match between No.2 seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and Spain's Carla Suárez Navarro. Mertens has a 1-0 head-to-head against Suárez Navarro, but lost her only previous match with Wozniacki.
"I played both of them once before, all three-setters," Mertens told the press. "So it's going to be a tough match. Semifinal, anything can happen. I just have to believe in myself and still have energy left to do great stuff."
Meanwhile, Svitolina’s inability to come through Grand Slam quarterfinals continues, as she dips to 0-3 in the final eight at major events, after losses in the 2015 and 2017 Roland Garros quarterfinals. This ends her own nine-match winning streak, coming off of the Brisbane International title, and quashes her chances to become World No.1 at the end of the event.
Svitolina had won the only prior meeting between the two, easily defeating Mertens in the championship match of the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup last year, for one of the Ukrainian’s WTA-leading five titles last year.
But it was a completely different story in this Australian Open quarterfinal match, as Mertens consistently took the ball early and dictated play in the 73-minute encounter. Mertens finished the match with 26 winners, as opposed to Svitolina’s 14.
"I was not ready to produce a good level of tennis," said Svitolina, during her post-match press conference, where she also explained that she had been struggling with a hip injury. "[Mertens] is a great player, she has a good level, so, you know, I couldn't match it, because physically it was very tough for me."
Both players had to fend off break points in the opening two games of the match, as they regularly engaged in lengthy all-court rallies, feeling each other out. But it was the unseeded Belgian who grabbed the first advantage, breaking Svitolina at love in the third game with a handful of brutal returns.
Mertens found a groove on her serve, and held her next two service games with the loss of just a single point. In the seventh game, a Mertens backhand crosscourt coerced an error from the Ukrainian to bring up another break point, which she converted with a backhand winner down the line to lead 5-2.
The Belgian was outhitting Svitolina from the baseline at this stage, continually moving forward to put away winners as soon as she could. But Mertens blinked when serving for the first set at 5-2, hitting too many errors and double faulting down break point.
In her next chance to serve for the set at 5-4, Mertens fell behind again, but an ace, followed by a point ending with a forehand winner, brought her to set point. She claimed the opening set on the very next point, after Svitolina hit a wild forehand well wide.
After that, it was one-way traffic, as Mertens kept hitting her spots, and Svitolina was never able to recover from the loss of the opener. Mertens did not face a break point in the set, and won all five of her second service points, while Svitolina could get only a woeful 41 percent of her first serves in play.
Svitolina had a chance to get on the board while serving down 0-4, reaching 30-30, but Mertens was determined to keep the whitewash going, and won the next two points, including a backhand winner down the line and into the corner to break for 5-0.
In the final game, Mertens reached her first match point when Svitolina hit a shocking unforced error way long after Mertens threw up a lob to keep the 30-30 point going. A searing backhand winner cross-court made Mertens the first Belgian Grand Slam semifinalist since Kirsten Flipkens made the final four of Wimbledon in 2013.
"I've got nothing to lose, that's for sure," said Mertens. "I have no points to defend. I guess I'm a bit, well, the underdog, as today. But I'm ready for it. I mean, I have a lot of energy left. Mentally, physically good. I'm just going to give it all and see where it ends."