LINZ, Austria - Top seed Aryna Sabalenka completed her 2020 season with a nine-match winning streak and back-to-back WTA titles, securing the Upper Austria Ladies Linz over Elise Mertens, 7-5, 6-2.
"This is something amazing," Sabalenka said after the match. "I don’t want to say anything, and just cross my fingers so more wins come to me. This is the perfect end to my season, so I can be happy and relaxed for my holidays and pre-season. I’ll keep working to make sure I can maintain this level next season."
READ MORE: Linz 2020 - Final Countdown
Sabalenka ties Simona Halep for most titles won this season, navigating a tricky opening set to outlast the No.2 seed to win her eighth career title in one hour and 42 minutes on Centre Court.
Her 3️⃣rd title in 2020 🏆 @SabalenkaA defeats the No.2 seed Mertens, 7-5, 6-2.#WTALinz pic.twitter.com/FVUa56naiL— wta (@WTA) November 15, 2020
Good friends and doubles partners for much of the last two years, the 2019 US Open champions had faced off five previous times in singles, with the Belarusian winning their two most recent meetings to lead 3-2 in their head-to-head.
Sabalenka rode an eight-match winning streak into Sunday's final, having swept the singles and doubles (with Mertens) at the J&T Banka Ostrava Open; her semifinal triumph over Barbora Krejcikova not only returned the former World No.9 to the Top 10 but also guaranteed her first year-end Top 10 finish.
While the top seed dropped just one set in her last six matches, Mertens had been made to battle in Linz, playing three three-setters to reach her second final of the season, including a 7-5 final set thriller against No.4 seed and 2018 Ladies Linz finalist Ekaterina Alexandrova.
"I think the first set was really tight. She’s a very powerful player, so it’s difficult to get in a neutral position," Mertens said after the match.
In search of her first WTA title since the 2019 Qatar Total Open, Mertens aimed to capitalize on a sudden dip in Sabalenka's form late in the first set, breaking the Belarusian to serve for the first set.
"The first set was really tricky," Sabalenka said. "There were lots of ups and down, but she was playing well. I led with a break but she kept fighting for every point. There was always pressure, and we were putting pressure on each other, so it was hard to strike a balance."
Besties 👯♀️ doing their traditional winner‘s jumping picture! ♥️📸@SabalenkaA @elise_mertens @wta | #wtalinz pic.twitter.com/9G1Gs5FQtS— WTA Linz (@WTALinz) November 15, 2020
Sabalenka soon steadied, however, and won a titanic 11th game on serve - one that featured seven deuces and three break points - and took that momentum through the first set and into a 3-0 lead in the second.
"It was a really tough set, so I’m happy to have be able to handle it because that helped me be freer in the second. I was much more relaxed in the second set."
"She’s more consistent now," Mertens added. "We saw how amazingly she played in Ostrava, too. She’s on a roll, so it’s difficult to get rhythm into the court, and just get into the court in general."
Mertens made one last charge as she threatened to get things back on serve, but the top seed was in full flow, saving two more break points before ultimately securing victory with a scintillating backhand winner.
Much like 2019, when she ended the season by winning a second Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open along with a maiden Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, Sabalenka ends her year with an abundance of trophies, and will undoubtedly look to translate this level onto the Grand Slam stage in 2021.
"At Grand Slams, I would think about how big they are, and put a lot of pressure on myself. I’ll try not to do that again, and know that everything I have to do is just go on court, bring my level, and give everything I have. That’s what I’ll focus on, on what I can control.
"Before, I would try to control everything, and overthink too much. Clearly, that wasn’t working."
In the doubles final that began the day, No.4 seeds Arantxa Rus and Tamara Zidansek completed their top seed sweep to win their second title of 2020 as a team, dispatching Lucie Hradecka and Katerina Siniakova, 6-3, 6-4.