PRAGUE, Czech Republic - No.3 seed Elise Mertens delivered a dogged performance to squeeze out Camila Giorgi 6-4, 6-2 and seal her place in the Prague Open quarterfinals in one hour and 44 minutes.
The result, the Belgian's second win in as many meetings with Giorgi, marks her third last-eight run of 2020, having opened the season with quarterfinal showings in Shenzhen and Auckland, and showcased some of her finest grinding as she gradually took control after initially getting outgunned.
“I knew I needed to play a good game to beat her, because she played a couple of good matches last week so she had that kind of rhythm already,” Mertens said. “But I’m happy with my performance. I knew I had to play more aggressively, because she has those amazing strokes and also some mistakes.
“I had to stay focused to try to play my game and be sometimes more aggressive than her and really take the ball early.”
An arduous first set saw Giorgi race out of the blocks, slamming winners around the court as Mertens struggled to find her range - but inch by inch, the World No.23 clambered back into contention over the course of a set that featured 16 deuces in total.
For all of Giorgi's bold shotmaking, which garnered her 16 winners in the set, the Italian's unforced errors repeatedly prevented her from gaining scoreboard momentum. A point to go up 3-0 went begging as a forehand sailed long, and Giorgi also emerged on the wrong end of an eight-deuce mini-marathon in the seventh game to drop serve again, with her backhand in particular going awry. In total, the World No.71 would win just three of her 11 points to hold serve in the first set.
Giorgi's inconsistency on serve was also troublesome, oscillating between aces and double faults - often in the same game - and ultimately tallying five of the former and seven of the latter; Mertens, by contrast, was rock solid, winning 85% of the points behind her first delivery. The US Open quarterfinalist also saved her best for key points, essaying a fine dropshot-lob combination and outdoing Giorgi at net with a backhand pass to serve the set out.
“I think these days you have to attack the ball, not always and you have to have control and patience - but attack when you can,” Mertens assessed. “That’s what I tried to do today.
“You need to the whole package, but I would say being aggressive is the most important thing right now in women’s tennis.”
In photos: Prague 2020: Story of the tournament
With the first act under her belt, Mertens piled on the pressure as the second got under way, reducing her unforced error count from 15 to five to allow Giorgi even fewer chances. Phenomenal defence and a judicious switch-up to the slice enabled Mertens to capture her first break of the set for 2-1, and the 2019 Doha champion was clutch in protecting that lead as strong serving fended off four break-back points in the sixth game to move up 4-2.
By now, Giorgi's errors were coming rather too thick and fast, eventually totalling 40 to 20 winners - and frequently on both putative putaways and neutral rally balls. With those opportunities on the Mertens serve squandered, a handful of wild backhands from the Palermo semifinalist put her down a double break.
As she had all day, the 24-year-old was sharp when stepping up to the line. Two service winners, another backhand winner down the line and, on her first match point, a third ace sealed victory for Mertens - and a quarterfinal clash against either Tamara Zidansek or wildcard Eugenie Bouchard.
It's the third quarterfinal of the year for the Belgian, who said she studied her first-round defeat at the Palermo Ladies Open in preparation before going into Prague.
“The first match in Palermo [against Aliaksandra Sasnovich], I was a little bit struggling because I didn’t play any real matches before,” Mertens explained. “So my coach said just focus more on yourself, even though also Sasnovich was playing really well.
“After that, I looked at the match again and got a feel for what I needed to do better. So I knew we needed to improve some things, not big things but just to get a bit more feel on the ball and better movement.
“So I had about a week to work on that, and the setup was perfect actually.”