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Mertens' dream AO debut rolls on

  • David Packman
  • Luke Hemer

Belgian Elise Mertens has broken new ground, continuing her impressive maiden run at Australian Open 2018 by defeating Petra Martic in straight sets 7-6(5) 7-5 at Margaret Court Arena on Sunday to move through to her first major quarterfinal.

“It’s amazing to be here, I have no words to describe this feeling,” Mertens said. I believe that I can do it now, I worked really hard to get here and this is really a bonus.”

While the world No.37 showed exactly why she has been one of the biggest movers on the WTA tour in the last 12 months, she did slightly stutter at intervals during the match, especially when closing out each set.

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“I was quite nervous, I wanted to win so badly, but I’m really glad I could do it in two sets,” the 22-year-old said.

The Belgian came out firing on all cylinders to take the first four games of the match before Martic was able to make any inroads at all. But an initial break of the Mertens serve was enough to put some doubts in her mind and the more experienced Martic, 27, was then able to quickly erase the lead and level proceedings – her own serve proving the primary weapon.

Regardless, Mertens managed to stand firm and eventually brought up a set point before Martic forced a tiebreaker. Riding high on the baseline and dictating play with her penetrating groundstrokes, the Belgian continued to look the stronger and thus it proved, as she created some space in the tiebreaker and held on to clinch it.

With neither player having reached the last eight at a major – and in this, their first meeting – not an inch was given as the second set began. Mertens continued her pressure and earned herself an early service break before Martic requested the trainer and eventually left the court for treatment. 

However, the Croatian didn’t miss a beat upon return, hitting her fastest serve for the match before earning a break for herself in the subsequent game to once again draw level.

Mertens upped the ante and surged for the line, snapping up a single chance granted by an errant Martic forehand. But opening the 10th game with a double fault, facing multiple break points and then missing her first opportunity to close out the match, she fell just short of victory, unable to shake off the remaining nerves and allowing the Croatian – whose valiant effort should not be unnoticed – back into contention.

Unperturbed, the young Belgian took up battlelines again and managed to create a second opportunity for herself. This time, she was not to be thwarted, holding her serve to love.

Coming off a successful title defense in Hobart, Mertens now increases her match-winning streak to nine. She will next face the winner of Ukrainian fourth seed Elina Svitolina and Czech qualifier Denisa Allertova.