ZHUHAI, China - No.4 seed Elise Mertens made the perfect debut at the 2018 Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, needing just 66 minutes to defeat Anett Kontaveit in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1.
The victory also puts Mertens on top in the Rose Group, which is headlined by defending champion Julia Goerges.
“I think at the start, it was a very tight match for both players, a lot of 40-alls in the games,” Mertens told press. “I think [the key was] a lot of variety, the spin ball, the slice, because she likes to hit flat and really hard. Also to get that one more ball back in the court, I think that made a difference a little bit.”
Mertens leads the Zhuhai field with three WTA titles to her name this season after triumphing at Hobart, Lugano and Rabat - but has struggled to recreate the same success in recent weeks, suffering first-round losses at Wuhan, Beijing, and Moscow.
She snapped that streak in emphatic fashion against Wuhan finalist Kontaveit, a fellow WTA Elite Trophy debutante. The first set was a tightly contested affair, with six breaks of serve traded between the pair as they wrestled for the momentum.
It was Mertens who got on board first, breaking the Kontaveit serve to lead 1-0 - but the Estonian fired back strongly, reeling off eight points in a row to get them back on serve at 2-1. Mertens came out on top with a 4-3 lead after the spate of three consecutive breaks of serve that followed, both players struggling to maintain any rhythm on serve under the pressure of the other’s strong returning.
The Belgian took command from there, recording three games on the trot to close out the opening set - and firing off another five in a row to open the second with a daunting 5-0 lead and a double break advantage. Kontaveit got on the scoreboard to avoid dropping the set to love, but she couldn’t stem Mertens’ momentum as the Belgian sealed the victory.
Up next for Mertens will be defending champion Goerges, although it’s Kontaveit that will play the German first with their match scheduled for tomorrow. Ranked World No.13, Mertens is guaranteed to be the first Belgian to finish a season inside the WTA’s Top 20 since Kirsten Flipkens in 2013.
“I've never really played [Goerges] before,” Mertens said. “It's going to be an interesting match for sure. She's defending champion. She feels pretty well here on the court. The court fits to her.
“But I've got nothing to lose. I don't have any points to defend or anything. I'll just play freely. I've had a good year and she's had a good year. Hopefully it will be a real competitive match.”