Elise Mertens looking to build on strong season start with good run in Dubai

Belgium’s Elise Mertens is looking to keep her dream season going this upcoming week in Dubai following her surprise run to the Australian Open semi-finals last month.

Reem Abulleil 2018/02/17

Belgium’s Elise Mertens is looking to keep her dream season going this upcoming week in Dubai following her surprise run to the Australian Open semi-finals last month.

The 22-year-old was ranked No. 80 12 months ago when she was competing at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Today, she is No. 20 in the world with an impressive 11-3 win-loss record for the season so far.

“It’s been an amazing season. A little unexpected, top-20 for the first time. Last year I ended it ranked 36 so it’s already a big thing but I hope I can still improve, level-wise, ranking-wise so we’ll see where it ends,” Mertens told Sport360 at the draw ceremony on Saturday.

Mertens started her year by winning 10 matches in a row, picking up the title in Hobart before making it to the Australian Open last-four, where she fell to Caroline Wozniacki, the eventual champion.

The prize money she has collected over the past six weeks amounts to 50 per cent of her entire career earnings and her 2018 results have placed her at No. 4 in the Porsche Race to Singapore standings.

With her elevated ranking and status, Mertens admits she has had to make some adjustments.

“I think both, physically you have to be really well, really prepared, you have to work every day. But also mentally believe in yourself that you can do it because of course you have to play at your level in every match, so it’s difficult, but if you do it every week then you get used to it,” she said.

Reflecting on her stunning run in Melbourne, she added: “It was great, surprising, well it was the first time I’ve been in the main draw (in Melbourne). I played the French Open and reached the third round last year and I was really happy about that but no, I just tried to stay focused every match, every round.”

Mertens faces 18-year-old American wildcard Catherine ‘CiCi’ Bellis in her opening round in Dubai. Bellis is coming off a big upset in Doha this week, where she defeated defending champion Karolina Pliskova, and could prove a tricky opponent for Mertens.

“I never played her before so it’s going to be a different match. But she’s a really great player, she’s still young but she’s already competing at this high level so it’s going to be an interesting match,” said the Belgian of Bellis.

Meanwhile, Czech lefty Lucie Safarova is hoping to continue her climb back up the rankings after struggling with illnesses and injuries over the past two years.

The former top-tenner reached the French Open final in 2015 but a stream of bad luck then took over as she suffered from a mysterious bacterial infection that wreaked havoc with the rest of her season.

Last year, a wrist problem forced her to end her 2017 prematurely but she has shown some great form so far this season, even if she’s still waiting on that big result to catapult her back into the top-10 (she is now ranked 31).

“I’m healthy, that’s the most important thing because I was struggling with a lot of injuries at the end of last year,” said the 31-year-old Safarova.

“I had a really good start actually this year, in Sydney I lost from a match point against Angie Kerber, who is playing really well now. I had a good run in Melbourne where I won two matches then I lost a tough, close match against Karolina Pliskova. I’m happy about my performances so far and I’m excited for this event.”

Safarova has a daunting first round in Dubai, against No. 5 seed Caroline Garcia. They only met once before, in Fed Cup in 2015, with Safarova taking the win in three sets.

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Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships Elise Mertens Lucie Safarova