RABAT, Morocco - Top seed Elise Mertens got her title defense underway at the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem, moving past the always dangerous Kirsten Flipkens in two sets, 6-3, 6-1.

“It’s always difficult to play a Belgian girl,” Mertens admitted after the match. “Of course we’re great friends off court, we play Fed Cup together. It’s always difficult.

“But I’m really happy that I got the win, and I’m really happy to be back in Rabat. I won this title last year, so I’m happy to be back.”

Read more: Story of the Streak: How 18 events crowned 18 different champions in historic WTA season

Last year, surprise Australian Open semifinalist Mertens lifted three International-level titles in her breakthrough 2018 season: Hobart, Lugano, and here in Rabat. This year, she’s already done one level better and claimed the Premier title in Doha - the biggest title of her career.

But since her Doha triumph, Mertens has struggled to return to her winning ways in singles. She’s yet to win back-to-back matches, and she’s suffered three opening round losses.

In photos: Rabat activities: WTA stars shine off the court in Morocco

Things seem to be finally clicking for Mertens here in Morocco, where she dominated her first round battle against the crafty Flipkens. She needed just over an hour to dispatch her fellow Belgian player, facing just one break point during the entire match.

“It’s never easy to defend a title, but you always go for it,” Mertens said. “Of course, you have some nerves, but you have to keep them under control. The little bit of experience that I had here in the past helps me going through this week, hopefully I can keep going further.”

Up next for Mertens will be Serbia’s Ivana Jorovic, who defeated Magda Linette 6-3, 6-2 yesterday to advance to the second round.

“I haven’t really played her yet, but I know she has a flat, hard game,” Mertens said. “So I’ll really have to move well and step up my game when I go on the court against her.”