PRAGUE, Czech Republic – No.3 seed Elise Mertens moved into her first final of 2020 as she overcame home favorite Kristyna Pliskova 7-5, 7-6(4) at the Prague Open.
The Belgian had won both previous meetings against her semifinal opponent on the hardcourts of Doha and Flushing Meadows, and she extended her record against the Czech to a perfect 3-0 on Prague’s clay.
She was made to work hard for the victory, though, with both players hitting a strong ratio of winners to unforced errors in an entertaining clash that lasted one hour 57 minutes.
Ultimately, it was Mertens’ greater efficiency on the big points that told as she saved seven of eight break points then showed mental fortitude to fight back from 0-3 down in the second-set tiebreak to seal the match.
“It was a really close match, just a couple of points of difference,” she said. “We both served well, so it was difficult to break each other, especially when our first serve was in. She can hit balls either way, so it was difficult to get the point started.
“In the end, it was just one break difference in the first set and I think I managed it well at the end. In the second set, we were both winning our serve, and although I made a couple of errors in the tiebreak, I stayed mentally tough.
“The more matches you play, the more confidence you get, the more you know how you’re playing and how you have to play.”
Pliskova had progressed in unusual circumstances, moving through to the last four as Ana Bogdan retired after just 38 minutes of their quarterfinal encounter, and she needed more time to feel her way into the encounter than an opponent who had already spent more than six-and-a-half hours on court this week.
That rustiness, though, was to be vital in the flow of the opening set as two identical missed backhands gave the WTA World No.23 an advantage she would hold all the way to 5-4, when she served for the set.
To that point, there had been no hint of a break. Mertens had ceded only four points in her first three service games, but two errors and one tremendous rally from Pliskova brought three break points. Two were missed but on the third the Belgian hit long and the set was squared.
Having been rather uneventful previously, the match exploded into life, with Pliskova fighting back brilliantly from 0-40 down to square the game at deuce only to cede her serve for a second time before she saved two set points in the subsequent game only to miss a backhand down the line and finally fall behind.
The dominance of serve in the match had passed and in the second set break opportunities arrived with greater frequency. Pliskova was particularly apt at creating these but failed to replicate the ruthless aggressive edge that fashioned these chances at the key moments as five went abegging.
Mertens, too, had her chances, though she was often the victim of vicious serving in clutch situations from the 28-year-old as the set remained locked on serve at 6-6, forcing a tiebreak.
Pliskova immediately took the initiative with an ace before opening up a 3-0 advantage. Excellent returning, however, saw the seed fight back and from 5-4 closed the match out with two solid points.
It means that Mertens will enter her seventh WTA Tour final, with her sixth title in sight. No.1 seed Simona Halep will stand in her way and it is an encounter she is looking forward to.
“I played her at the Australian Open this year and it was a close one,” she said. “She’s in the final, so she’s got a lot of matches in and will be confident.
“I’ll try to improve, see what I can do better. I’ll try to do that today and tomorrow morning, but I’ll just try to focus on my main things: a good serve and a good return.”