LINZ, Austria - Elise Mertens roared into her second final of 2020, rallying from a set down to defeat No.4 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz.
"It was a tough one, especially in the first set, when she was serving unbelievably well," Mertens said after the match. "I think I managed to do better in the second and third sets, throwing in some loop and slice. She hits pretty hard so I felt like if I gave her rhythm, she was controlling the points, so I tried mixing things up and that worked today."
Alexandrova finished runner-up at the tournament back in 2018, and enjoyed a bright start before the No.2 seed got the better of the Russian after two hours and five minutes on Centre Court.
Mertens has played her best tennis of the season after the COVID-19 lockdown ended in August, reaching the Prague Open final and the Western & Southern Open semifinals before securing a second straight US Open quarterfinal appearance in Flushing Meadows.
"I try to play well at every tournament, so I can't say if I'm playing better now as opposed to before lockdown. I'm just trying to do my thing on court.
"I'm very happy to be in the finals, especially since it's the last tournament of the year, giving me an extra push to do well. I managed to get some hours on the court, but I'm happy with my performance overall, that I could turn around these tough matches. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
Battling through tough matches to kick off her Linz campaign, she was more on song against No.5 seed Veronika Kudermetova to book the clash against Alexandrova, who had won their only previous encounter on grass last spring.
Alexandrova, by contrast, began 2020 in scintillating form, winning her first WTA title in Shenzhen and made her first Premier-level semifinal at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.
Back on her beloved indoor courts, she didn't drop a set en route to the semifinals, and began the match against Mertens in similar style.
Nabbing two crucial service breaks, the 25-year-old served out the set on her first opportunity and put herself six games from the championship match.
The Belgian was equally emphatic in rebuttal, surging ahead 4-0 in the second set before leveling the set as Alexandrova erred off the backhand side.
A former World No.12, Mertens emerged ahead after an early exchange of breaks in the ensuing decider, and soon led 5-3 with the finish line drawing near.
Alexandrova made a brave last stand, winning eight of the next 11 points to even the final set at five games apiece, but overhit on critical shots and Mertens ultimately regained the lead, clinching victory as the Russian made a final backhand error.
"I like to play matches, and I like to play tennis, which is why I played so much after the break. I have a passion for this sport, and I try to do my best and win every time. Of course, that's not always possible, but under the circumstances, I'm happy with how well I've been able to hold up mentally."
Standing between the former Australian Open semifinalist and a first title of the season is top seed and longtime doubles partner Aryna Sabalenka, who outlasted rising Czech star Barbora Krejcikova, a former WTA Doubles No.1 in the midst of a singles surge, in three grueling sets of her own.