ROME -- It was only a matter of time before Elise Mertens and Storm Hunter imposed themselves on the Hologic WTA Tour doubles circuit.
Mertens is a former doubles No.1 who has found consistent success over the past four seasons, all while playing with different partners. Hunter emerged as a doubles threat last season. She started her year by winning Adelaide with Ashleigh Barty and finished with a WTA 1000 title in Guadalajara with Luisa Stefani.
The two teamed up for the first time at the Australian Open this year, and four events later, they won their first title together. Hunter and Mertens beat top seeds Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula in the final to cement their partnership.
Hunter, Mertens upset Gauff, Pegula to win first team title in Rome
"I think from the first match through the quarterfinals we really grew as a team," Mertens told WTA Insider. "We played with each other a few times, but we were still kind of looking for that chemistry to find each other on the court."
The two-week format in Rome gave the duo a chance to hit the practice court and focus on their teamwork and spatial awareness. They quickly began to fine-tune their team instincts and anticipate each other's movements on the court.
"We had a few days to practice being on the same side," Hunter said. "We've played matches but it's good to practice because you can make a mistake, and it's OK, whereas when you do it in the match it feels bigger. So we could get comfortable with how we want to play.
"We're both very comfortable at the net, so looking for balls at the net and trying not to get into a lot of rallies."
Champs in Roma🏆🥰 🇮🇹— Elise Mertens (@elise_mertens) May 21, 2023
Thanks to the crowd who came to watch us play yesterday, what an amazing atmosphere on a beautiful court ❤️
And of course thanks to my team, family & fans for all the support! 🙏
By the time Mertens and Hunter hit the quarterfinals, there was little that could knock them off their rhythm. Not even an impromptu court change because of rain delays distracted them from their mission.
"It actually wasn't that big of a change because we were second after 7 p.m. and we started at 9:15, so timing-wise it was practically the same," Mertens said.
Hunter agreed: "We all wanted to play tonight so we were ready to go," the Australian said. "It worked out. The men were still going on Centrale and the crowd waiting for the women's final got to watch us first and then go in.
"Pietrangeli is the best court in tennis I think, so to get to play the final with a full crowd, the atmosphere was incredible."
Hunter now heads immediately to Roland Garros to prepare for her singles qualifying campaign. It's a quick turnaround, but she wouldn't have it any other way.
"I don't think you can replicate matches, singles or doubles, having that pressure of playing in those moments," Hunter said.
"It's a privilege to be in the final of such a prestigious event like Rome. You walk down the tunnel and see the years that it's been played, it's amazing."