MIAMI, FL, USA - Playing just their third tournament together, Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka have it all figured out.
"I just agree with everything she says," Sabalenka joked after she and Mertens dispatched 2017 Miami Open champions Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yi-Fan. "This is the good part of doubles, that you can sit there, say nothing, and just agree with your partner!"
The two Top 20 singles players have had little come between them since pairing up at the Australian Open, reuniting to win the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and reach the semifinals of Miami. Two more wins and they'll become the first to win a Sunshine Double since Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza back in 2015.
"In Australia when we first played together, it was a question of ‘When do we switch?’" Mertens recalled on Wednesday. "If she hits a good shot, or if I do, what do we do next? Those were key things, and now we really know each other’s’ games well, and we know when to switch.
"You’re trying to win, and you try to play these matches. As a team, standing there every match is important."
Less than 24 hours after outlasting Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships winners Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova, Mertens and Sabalenka extended their winning streak to eight when they dropped just four games to Dabrowski and Xu, setting up an intruiging semifinal with former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka and singles semifinalist Ashleigh Barty.
"They both are really good, aggressive, with good serves from Barty especially," noted Sabalenka. "They’re great players, so it’ll be an interesting one, actually. I’m really looking forward to playing against them."
Both women made big breakthroughs in 2018, cracking the Top 20 for the first time with a combined five WTA singles titles; Sabalenka began 2019 with another title at the Shenzhen Open while Mertens captured the biggest title of her caeer at the Qatar Total Open in Doha.
Talking to them after their last two matches, the duo share an endearing dynamic as Mertens quietly adds to Sabalenka's colorful replies.
"We’re actually not thinking about [the WTA Finals], which is the kind of thing we need to learn for singles, and not care about anything," Sabalenka exclaimed, peppering in a staccato swear for comic emphasis.
"She’s funny," Mertens said. "She’s just relaxed on the court, gives 100% every ball, and if she misses, she’ll be like ‘Oh! I should have put that in!’ I have to be like, ‘It’s ok, you did the right thing!’"
Playing late matches most of the week precluded from sight-seeing, though Sabalenka promises at least one night to remember before leaving the Florida coast.
"We’ll have fun, eat everything like ice creams and sweets!" she says as they dissolve into laughter.
Mertens and Sabalenka play Azarenka and Barty at the Miami Open on Friday.