NÜRNBERG, Germany - No.5 seed Alison Riske withstood a spirited fightback from Elise Mertens to move into the second round of the Nürnberger Versicherungs Cup with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory.
Riske’s aggression off the ground paid dividends in the first half of the match as she twice retrieved a break deficit in the first set, eventually edging it with another break in the final game. The Belgian’s strategy of attacking the Riske backhand failed to pay off, as that wing held firm for the American as she cruised to a 3-0 lead in the second set.
It was then that Mertens began to land more of her targets, conjuring up some wonderful forehand winners as she reeled off six of the set’s last seven games, closing the second set out with an ace.
The Belgian, who reached her first WTA clay court final in Istanbul last month, was demonstrating her superior comfort on the surface - but Riske was unaffected by letting her lead slip in the deciding set. Upping her game on serve in particular, the American did not face a break point until the final game of the match.
That game nearly provided a dramatic final twist as Riske had to retrieve a 0-40 deficit, and let her first match point slip with a netted dropshot and her second with a double fault. On her third, she battled through a tough rally and eventually found a raking cross-court forehand angle that Mertens could not counter.
Meanwhile, wildcard Tatjana Maria overwhelmed 18-year-old qualifier Marie Bouzkova 6-0, 6-1 with her scrambling and variety; and Misaki Doi and Barbora Krejcikova both progressed when their opponents were forced to retire. Maria Sakkari had lost a tight first set 7-6(0) to Doi when she pulled out, and Alexandra Cadantu trailed Krejcikova 6-4, 5-2 before stopping.