Belgium’s Elise Mertens has defeated a top-10 player for the third straight match to win the Qatar Total Open.
Mertens defeated world no. 8 Kiki Bertens in the quarterfinals, then world no. 6 Angelique Kerber in the semifinals. That set her up to face world no. 3 Simona Halep in the final.
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Photo: Elise Mertens with the Qatar Total Open trophy. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Halep was first to get a look at a break point, that coming in the very first game when Mertens hit a down-the-line forehand just wide for 30-40. Mertens would see off that first attempt at a break after taking Halep wide in the forehand court before hitting a forehand winner into the open court. The game would go back and forth before Halep did get the break on her fourth attempt when she hit a running forehand right onto the sideline for a winner.
The break was shortlived with Mertens setting up a break-back point in the next game when she stepped in and clobbered a Halep second serve with a big backhand to force an error from the Romanian. Halep would then hit a backhand into the net to concede the break.
In a see-sawing opening, it would be Halep that broke again in the third game to make it three straight breaks. Halep then served to love to jump to a 3-1 lead.
In the sixth game it was time for another break of serve as this time Halep was unable to hold. At 30-40 she served a double fault to see the set back on serve at 3-3.
As we had seen, it was easier to break serve than hold serve and it was Halep that broke Mertens yet again to jump to 4-3 after breaking to love on the back of some aggressive hitting. Halep would hold serve for 5-3 then break again to love to win the first set. Halep won 12 straight points to close out the first set.
After crumbling in the late stages of the first set you could have expected Mertens to follow a similar pattern in the second set and hand Halep the trophy. Instead she called on David Taylor her coach for some advice.
It looked like Halep would run away with the match after breaking Mertens in the second game to jump out to a 2-0 lead but there was a momentum shift in the third game as Halep missed a few shots and Mertens worked her way to a break point. The Belgium did not convert on the first occasion but she brought up a second break point with a nice backhand winner. After Halep hit a shot into the net on the next point, Mertens was back in it.
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Photo: Simona Halep fought hard against Mertens but faded in the end. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
At the change of ends Mertens called for the trainer and received some treatment for a lower back problem.
After getting back out on court it was Mertens serving to level at 2-2. After some big hitting from both players it was Halep that moved to break point after coming from 40-15. She had a look at a second serve however Mertens was able to find a bit of extra power on a forehand and that saw Halep late on her swing, seeing her hit wide. Mertens eventually was able to hold.
In the fifth game Mertens earned a break point with some powerful hitting that sent Halep beyond the baseline, eventually forcing an error with Halep hitting into the net. Mertens would send a volley long to get the game to deuce. Halep would hold to move to 3-2.
Halep was giving everything as she searched for another break of serve. This time having two break points at 15-40 after Mertens netted a backhand. The next point saw Mertens play a backhand winner that landed right on the line. A big serve that Halep could not land in court saw Mertens move to deuce, then a forehand winner gave her Ad. An ace closed out the game. A great fightback from Mertens.
With Halep serving in the next game she had to fight off a break point. Some big serves from Halep got her ahead 4-3. From here Mertens ran off three straight games to take the set 6-4.
In the opening game of the third set Halep had back-to-back unforced errors to concede the break. In the next game, it was a battle to hold serve for Mertens to hold serve with Halep holding break points. Mertens was looking the stonger player and was going for the big shots, despite that Halep had three break points in the second game.
Halep held and then was at Mertens again in her next service game with the Romanian bringing up three break points at 0-40. Mertens serve had gone off the boil. A backhand winner after a second serve saved the first, but on the next point Mertens hit long to allow Halep to break back.
With Halep now looking out on her feet, but still giving full effort it was Mertens that pushed for a break. Halep stopped her swing on a shot thinking it was going long, only to see it land in, she adjusted to play the shot but then Mertens was able to hit a winner from a weak shot. Mertens then converted the break point for 3-2.
Mertens then served to love to put a lot of pressure on the world no. 3. Halep held to love for 4-3 with Mertens to serve. Halep was limping at this stage and it was hard to imagine she could fight back from that position. Another hold and Mertens was one game for the biggest title of her career.
Halep could not fight off the Belgium player and Mertens found herself looking at two championship points with Halep serving at 15-40 after Halep hit long. It took just one opportunity for Mertens as a tired Halep hit a backhand well wide. Mertens was the champion after a hard fought 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.
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Photo: Elise Mertens falls to the court as she sees Halep’s shot go wide to hand the Belgium the Qatar Total Open title. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
I was really happy the way I played this week, actually. I’m happy about the process that I made, starting out playing less well and then getting better every match.
“This is why you do it, to beat those top 10 players and getting the victory at the end.” Mertens said.