RABAT, Morocco -- The stellar year of top seed Elise Mertens continued on Friday, as the Belgian reached her third WTA singles final of the season with a dominant semifinal victory over No.8 seed Hsieh Su-wei of Chinese Taipei, 6-0, 6-2, at the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem.
In the first meeting between the two players, the skillful all-court play of Mertens was too much for the eclectic style of Hsieh on the day, and the No.1 seed moved through the match in a swift 57 minutes to win her ninth straight match on the WTA Tour.
"I’m really happy about my game," said Mertens, during a post-match interview. "Of course, [Hsieh] also went to the semis, she’s a great player too, she has a lot of experience, she’s very 'handy.' It was still a battle at the end, but I’m really happy that I pulled through."
The World No.19 hit 12 winners during the match, and kept her play pristine with only eight unforced errors. By contrast, the cunning angles and spins of Hsieh were not in form during the match, and the top player from Chinese Taipei committed 26 unforced errors. Hsieh also never held a break point on the Mertens serve.
22-year-old Mertens started the match with a bang, breaking Hsieh at love in the blink of an eye. The Belgian then broke Hsieh again for a 3-0 lead after the No.8 seed blasted a backhand miscue long while down break point.
Another backhand error in her next service game put Hsieh down 0-5, as her woes multiplied off of that wing. Mertens finally got shaky when serving for the opening set, losing her first two set points, the second via double fault, but converted her third chance with a forehand winner. Mertens won 25 points to Hsieh's eight in the set.
Mertens started the second set the same way she began the opener -- by breaking Hsieh at love, this time with a sublime backhand service return for an untouched winner. A hold by Mertens in the following game gave the top seed a 6-0, 2-0 lead as another final seemed in sight.
32-year-old Hsieh finally got on the board in the next game, quashing the eight-game winning streak of Mertens by holding for 1-2 when a forehand forced a rare mistake from the Belgian. But Mertens won a close game to hold for 3-1, ending the game with a perfect drop shot, and then broke Hsieh again off a forehand winner to grab a 4-1 advantage.
Hsieh, the former World No.1 in doubles, used her guile to win a second game and pull to 5-2 in the second set, but Mertens had been unbothered on serve throughout the meeting, and as she stepped to the line, victory seemed inexorable. Indeed, the Belgian quickly reached match point, and after Hsieh sent a service return long, Mertens stepped into her third final of the season.
Mertens will now attempt to win a WTA-leading third title of the year -- and second consecutively, after winning at the Samsung Open in Lugano, Switzerland last month -- when she takes on unseeded Australian Ajla Tomljanovic on Saturday in Rabat. Tomljanovic took down No.7 seed Aleksandra Krunic in straight sets in the first semifinal on Friday.
"Of course, it’s going to be a tough one," said Mertens. "[Tomljanovic is] also a good player." But the No.1 seed has been bolstered by a lot of encouragement in Morocco. "I really feel like the support is on my side too; if I’m walking here, everybody’s saying ‘Good luck’ and ‘Congrats,’ so I’m really feeling good here."