RABAT, Morocco - No.6 seed Maria Sakkari took down last year’s champion Elise Mertens in two sets to power into the semifinals at the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem.
World No.18 Mertens, the tournament’s top seed, was looking to defend a title for the second time in her career, after becoming Hobart’s first two-time champion in 2017-2018.
But Sakkari, ranked No.51, had other ideas. The Greek No.1 was on a tear in the Moroccan capital, coming into the quarterfinal matchup without having dropped a set along the way.
She continued her impressive run in Rabat with another straight sets win against Mertens, needing an hour and 52 minutes to blast 26 winners and five aces, seeing off the Belgian player, 6-4, 7-6(2).
The Greek player claimed the first set after a tug-of-war battle, both players struggling to hang onto the shifting momentum. Mertens breaks first in the opening game, but her lead was quickly erased as Sakkari made it 1-1. Later, it was Sakkari with the lead at 3-1, but it didn’t last too long as Mertens fought back to make it 4-4. Finally, Sakkari took advantage of the Belgian’s vulnerable second serves, piling the pressure on Mertens and earning the final and decisive break at 6-4.
The second set was just as hard fought as the first, with Mertens looking in control for most of the set. Mertens rallied back from a break deficit, digging herself out of 0-2 and reeling off the next four games in a row to make it 4-2.
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But just as Mertens was settling into her rhythm, Sakkari was right back on the attack. She earned the break back at 4-4, and stayed toe-to-toe with her opponent as they marched to a tiebreak.
The Greek player dominated in the deciding tilt, grabbing the first minibreak and reeling off four of the first five points on offer. A Mertens forehand finally sailed long to give Sakkari the victory - and a spot in the semifinals.
Up next for Sakkari will be Mertens’ countrywoman Alison Van Uytvanck, who defeated Ysaline Bonaventure 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 in an all-Belgian quarterfinal earlier in the day.
More to follow...