NEW YORK, NY, USA - No.25 seed Elise Mertens is into her first US Open quarterfinal without dropping a set after taking down American wildcard Kristie Ahn, 6-1, 6-1 on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
“I'm just trying to focus every time I step on court, just trying to look at point per point,” Mertens said in her post-match press conference. “I was trying to play aggressive, trying to improve myself. That's probably the main key. Just try to focus throughout the whole match.”
Coming into the match, the Doha champion had to navigate past the Prague and Palermo champion Jil Teichmann in the first round, the big-serving Kristyna Pliskova and resurgent Andrea Petkovic en route to the fourth round - equalling her best previous result in Flushing Meadows.
Across the net, Ahn was recording the best week of her career in a Cinderella run to the fourth round. Having made her Grand Slam debut at the US Open in 2008, the American finally recorded her first main draw victory at a major this week - the largest gap between Grand Slam main draw debut and first Grand Slam main draw match win in Open Era history
Ahn faced down multiple Grand Slam champions en route to her clash with Mertens, navigating past Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anna Kalinskaya and Jelena Ostapenko. But the dream run to a first major quarterfinal came to an end against former Australian Open semifinalist Mertens, who dominated from the start and didn’t let up the intensity en route to a comprehensive 6-1, 6-1 victory in 67 minutes.
"It was weird because I felt like I wasn't playing badly," Ahn explained afterward. "I looked at the scoreboard, I'm like, 'You're getting whooped.'
"I thought she played very smart. She had a game plan, and she executed it very well. I think a lot of it had to do with her kind of breaking my rhythm or not allowing me to have rhythm. I don't think she allowed me to see the same ball twice."
Mertens made the perfect start as she recorded an early break to build up a 2-0 lead, keeping Ahn out of the rallies and applying the pressure on the American’s serve. Ahn continued to press, creating a break opportunity to get them back on serve, but Mertens brushed it away extend her lead to 3-0.
Another Mertens break - this time for 5-1 - was followed by more Ahn opportunities - two more of her three break points in the match - but the Belgian was dialed in and closed out the set, 6-1.
Dropping the opening set seemed to take the wind out of Ahn’s sails, with the American already sporting plenty of tape on her knee and elbow. Mertens once again scored an early break to start with a 1-0 lead, and then reeled off the last four games in a row to claim a spot into her first US Open quarterfinal.
“It was actually a tough match,” Mertens admitted. “I didn't really expect me to play so well in the first set probably. I was really playing aggressive, really not letting her into those rallies because she kind of likes to get right, left, into those rallies. Just trying to fight the way through it.”
Mertens fired 17 winners to Ahn’s nine, and kept her unforced errors in check - 15 to her opponent’s 25. As a result, the Belgian stayed in command during the big points, and saved all three break points she faced.
Mertens awaits the winner between No.15 seed Bianca Andreescu and American qualifier Taylor Townsend, who took down Simona Halep in the second round.
“Townsend has great hands, coming to the net a lot,” Mertens assessed. “I don't really know a lot about her. But I know from juniors actually, so I kind of know her.
“Then Andreescu has an all-around game. She's on fire when she's on the court. It's going to be really tough either way.”