HOBART, Australia – No.1 seed Elise Mertens produced a stunning array of winners as she got her Hobart International campaign off to a flying start with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Christina McHale.
The Belgian has won on both of her previous trips to Tasmania, posting a 12-0 winning record when qualifying is considered, and looked entirely at home from the first strike against the qualifier.
READ MORE: Ranking movers: Americans fly the flag
McHale had no answer to the superior striking of the Belgian, who sealed a convincing victory in 68 minutes.
“I just left everything on the court. I love Hobart and love coming back each year,” she said. “I like it here. The court is good for me and I like the wind.
“I played directly, I tried to play some volleys from time to time, I served well, so I’m pretty happy. I’ve got a good feeling on these courts, and I hope I can keep it for many matches here.
“I came through qualifying and won the tournament in 2017, and since then my career has only gone upwards. It’s my second year in the Top 20, which was my dream, and hopefully I can do better in the future.”
Both players employed big-hitting strategies from the beginning of the match, though it was Mertens who was far more successful in doing so as she registered fewer unforced errors, while her formidable serve allowed her to get ahead in the rallies.
Indeed, over the course of the first set, she won 83% of points when her first serve found its mark – something it would do an impressive 69% of the time. By contrast, the American was only winning 50% of points in such scenarios.
It meant that while the rallies were competitive and entertaining, they were constantly being won by the two-time champion, who was equally fluent off both wings and appeared to be without an obvious weakness.
Two double faults when serving to close out the opener were as close to a blemish as she would come, but that did not stop her sealing the set in a little under 30 minutes.
McHale responded positively at the beginning of the second, dropping her unforced error count and showing a greater ability to hit through the court, yet even now it took her 10 minutes to get the first game on the board.
She would not get another as Mertens stepped up another gear, showing some velvety touches to add to her powerful hitting.
A deft dropshot, out of character from the power striking that had dominated the match, helped her to a quick service hold to get back on terms, then in the following game a precise lob carried her to 0-40 as she broke McHale’s resistance.
The next four games fell into place for the Belgian as she closed out her 13th-straight Hobart victory against an opponent who has failed to win a main draw match in Hobart in three attempts.
Mertens, meanwhile, will try to keep her altogether more positive run going when she faces Viktoria Kuzmova in the second round, an opponent who had nearly three hours put into her legs in a three-set victory over Zhu Lin.