LINZ, Austria - The 2020 season may have only just come to a close, but former Australian Open semifinalist Elise Mertens has 2021 firmly in her sights as she plans a busy off-season at home in Belgium.

"I’ll take tomorrow off because I have a flight but I’ll be starting fitness training again on Tuesday, and then I have a pre-season for four weeks," she said after her runner-up finish to Aryna Sabalenka at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz. "I’ll probably be back on court by Thursday."

Mertens ends the year with 34 match wins, the most of any player, and reached the quarterfinals or better at six of her eight tournaments played once the tour ended its COVID-19 lockdown - including a second straight US Open quarterfinal, a Western & Southern Open semifinal, and two finals at the Prague Open and this week in Linz.

Photo by Getty Images/Alexander Scheuber

The Belgian needed to at least make the semifinals to finish the year inside the Top 20, and battled through multiple three-setters against the likes of Vera Zvonareva and Ekaterina Alexandrova before bowing out to Sabalenka in the championship match.

"Losing a final is always a little like, you came so far only to lose, but she played so well, and all credit to her game. I have to work on some things, but for next season, I want to do well, play consistently, and that’s what I was able to do after corona. Playing against Top 10 and 20 players will always involve tough matches, but the more you play them, the more you understand their patterns."

Ranked as high as No.12 after reaching her maiden major semifinal in Melbourne and upsetting Simona Halep to win the Qatar Total Open in 2019, the next logical step for the 24-year-old would be the Top 10, a goal she believes will require even more work to reach.

2020 Linz highlights: Sabalenka stops Mertens to claim title

"I think the Top 10 is a very hard step to make. It’s a pretty big point gap, so I’ll just take things step by step. I’ve been No.12 once, but that was a while ago. I’ll have to really step up and make some big results if I want to be in the Top 10."

That work will start close to home as early as next week, where Mertens will blend preparation and vacation before traveling to Australia for the 2021 season.

"In Belgium we have a lockdown at the moment, so only professional players can practice and play tennis. Fortunately, I’m one of them, so I’m lucky to be able to play. I’ll be practicing at the Kim Clijsters Academy, which is 15 minutes from where I live. I definitely need some time home to be able to recharge. I’ll be doing fitness there, as well. It’s actually all in one place, so it’ll be pretty safe."

A Top 40 staple since 2017, Mertens ends the year armed with momentum, an unwavering passion for tennis, and a clear plan another breakthrough next season.

"I’ve improved not only in my tennis, but also mentally and physically. I do a lot on and off the court, so that really helped me, especially after corona, to stay mentally healthy at this level. I was physically ready, clearly from the long matches I played this week. I’m still able to play without injuries, so I’m very happy about that.

"I’ve grown as a player in a positive way, but you can always learn and improve."