Match Review: Elise Mertens v Aryna Sabalenka

It was finals time on the seventh and final day of action at the Ladies Open Lugano and we had a great match set as Belgian second seed Elise Mertens took on Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus on Centre Court. The result went the way of Mertens as she took the third title of her career, and first on clay, with the 7-5, 6-2 defeat of a possible injury hampered Sabalenka. From Mertens, this wasn’t a great match as she was not getting as many winners as she had earlier in the week but she did exactly the right thing in targeting Sabalenka’s backhand while staying consistent on serve. For most of the match, this was bad from Sabalenka as her backhand barely landed in and she only had a small part of the opener when she was on fire and while her serve was a good constant, it just wasn’t enough.

Set 1

There were no early nerves from Aryna Sabalenka as she powered through the first game with some one-two punches behind serve but then as Elise Mertens settled herself in, the problems came. We saw the Sabalenka backhand woes in Merten’s first hold and then we saw the Belgians tactic of sending all her shots back without much power to keep Sabalenka running and wait for the error and that guided Mertens to the early break at 2-1. Both women exchanged holds but then Sabalenka had a visit from her coach when trailing 3-2 and that inspired her as she came back with some fierce play on the forehand to break back to love and level the set. The two exchanged quick holds again with both of their serve placement being perfect but then Sabalenka had to fight to hold at 4-4 after she missed two midcourt balls early in the rally but then came up with big serves when needed to save two break points and hold with an ace. From that point to the completion of the set, Sabalenka had lost rhythm as she was struggling to read Merten’s play and she also lost some effectiveness on her serve when broken at 5-5. In those last three games, Mertens also rose in confidence as she started going for the backhand down the line to secure the 7-5 set.

Set 2

There was trouble for Aryna Sabalenka early on as she played a lengthy opening service game but then after Elise Mertens had piled the pressure on her second serve, the Belarussian hit a double fault at duece to bring a breakpoint which Mertens converted. The momentum kept coming for the second seed as backed up the break with a hold to love but then Sabalenka had a good service game with big serves to get a game in the set. The backhand kept letting Sabalenka down but she put in a gutsy hold when trailing 3-1 as she started with errors but continued with her aggressive play and it worked as she saved three break points and held. This is when a possible injury for Sabalenka started appearing as she struggled to get the right positioning for her big shots and was trying to finish points too early by overpressing. The last straw from Sabalenka was when the forehand consistency dropped and that is what cost her the double break for Mertens to take a 5-2 lead. Nothing changed when the Belgian served for the title as she was benefitted by Sabalenka errors and she held with ease for the 7-5, 6-2 win.

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