DOHA, Qatar - Elise Mertens was all business after booking a spot in the biggest final of her young career, resolving to play pressure-free tennis against reigning Roland Garros champion Simona Halep in order to win the Qatar Total Open title.
“I have to play relaxed, because then you know if you play at your best,” she said after a dramatic win over former World No.1 Angelique Kerber on Friday. “I have to play aggressive, but not too much. She can bring a lot of balls back. But I'm mentally prepared for tomorrow.”
A year removed from her major breakthrough at the 2018 Australian Open, the 23-year-old has enjoyed steady progress on the WTA tour, winning three International titles to end the year just outside the Top 10.
Mertens paired with David Taylor - longtime coach of 2011 US Open winner Samantha Stosur and formerly with the likes of Naomi Osaka and Jelena Ostapenko - to start the season, a decision she feels will help her more consistently compete with game’s top tier.
“It's very important to have David also on my team, because he has that experience, knows a lot of players. It comes to the little things in tennis, especially on this level.”
She went on to make the quarterfinals at the Sydney International, and though she didn’t back up her semifinal run Melbourne, the Belgian felt her best was yet to come.
“I had a really hard preseason. I worked really hard. It didn't really come together in Australia. Of course, not bad results but not the way I wanted it.
“But, you know, in tennis, every week there is another tournament, so every week you can improve yourself.”
Those improvements have been on display in Doha through back-to-back Top 10 wins over Kiki Bertens and Kerber, who swept the second set of their semifinal before Mertens roared back to win in three.
“I knew it was going to be a really difficult match to play. I had to play aggressive, stay on my line, because she can put that one ball back in the court.
“Tennis is full of surprises. I think women's tennis is really close to each other. Everybody is a great competitor, works hard.”
Prepared for a similar opponent in Halep, who battled back to score a big win over nemesis Elina Svitolina, Mertens hopes her past success in WTA finals will prepare her to take on the top seed in front of what will likely be a Fed Cup-esque atmosphere for the Romanian.
“Once you have been there, it helps the nerves. You know what you can do, and I have to feel confident. I feel confident because I had a great match today.
“Simona has a lot of experience, too, so it's going to be a difficult one.”
Mertens and Halep face off not before 6PM local time on Doha’s Centre Court.