Hobart | Watson outlasts Mertens to reach semi-final
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Britain’s Heather Watson came from a set down to pull off the biggest upset of the week in Hobart by outlasting former champion and top seed Elise Mertens, 6-7(5) 6-4 7-5, after a gruelling 3 hour 33 minute battle.
I've played Elise before this, and she's beaten me every time. I'm very happy with how I played today, especially under the circumstances. It's been busy, and I feel like I've pretty much been living here at the club, but it's not a bad place to be. I just need to take care of my body now, and get ready for my next match. Heather Watson
It was her best victory in 2 and a half years as the British No 2 has not beaten a top-20 player since seeing off Anastasija Sevastova at Wimbledon in 2017.
Watson, who had to come through qualifying for the tournament, is ranked outside the world’s top 100, while Mertens is No 17.
During the match, the draw for the Australian Open, which will take place between 20 January and 2 February, took place and Watson will play Czech World No 62 Kristýna Plíšková, the twin sister of 2nd seed Karolina, in the first round.
She was quick out of the gates on Thursday, winning the first 3 games of the match en route to building early leads of 3-0 and 4-1, but the top seed responded with a run of 3 straight games of her own to level the set at 4-4, and there was little to separate the two through to the end of the opener, which was won by the Belgian as she claimed 4 of the last 6 points of the tiebreak.
Mertens, a two-time winner in Tasmania in 2018 and 2019, had battled from a break down in the opening set to ultimately put herself on the brink of victory twice in the match.
The Belgian was just 2 games away from victory in the second set and, after a rain delay, was twice a break up in the final set, before Watson pulled off the upset to earn her first-ever victory against Mertens in 4 meetings.
“I’ve played Elise before this, and she’s beaten me every time. I’m very happy with how I played today, especially under the circumstances,” Watson said.
“It’s been busy, and I feel like I’ve pretty much been living here at the club, but it’s not a bad place to be. I just need to take care of my body now, and get ready for my next match.”
Rain showers stopped play 3 times in the 8th game of the second set, with 2 of the brief interruptions leaving the players sitting by the side of the court, but the 3rd delay sent them off for about 45 minutes.
Watson forced a decider upon resumption thanks, in part, to her winning the last 4 games of the set.
In a final set that saw 7 breaks of serve and 6 marathon multiple-deuce games, Mertens was the first to strike, as she led 2-0 and 3-1 before bouncing back to lead 5-4 from a break down at 4-3.
It was the 2015 Hobart champion, however, who found her mettle in the end, as she broke serve for the final time at 5-5 and saved 2 break points before serving out the match.
The 27-year old had recovered from a break down herself to win, and extended her fine record in Hobart after having won her second WTA title here in 2015.
Watson is projected to rise from her current ranking of 101 to around 75, and a 4th WTA title would push her back towards the top 60.
Having already beaten the top seed, Watson will not fear anyone left in the tournament, and she will next face Elena Rybakina, the 3rd seed from Kazakstan, who took a little over 2 and a half hours to eliminate Australia’s Lizette Cabrera, 6-7(4) 7-6(2) 7-5, to reach the last four.
It was already a very long day for Watson, who had to endure rain delays and was scheduled to play a late evening doubles quarter-final match, which she subsequently withdrew from.
Following the lengthy rain delay at 4-4 in the second set, Watson broke the Belgian and held serve to level the match.
There were 7 breaks of serve in the third set, with the decisive one coming when Watson went 6-5 up.
She then held serve for victory in a shade over 3 and-a-half hours to progress after the fine battle.
Earlier, No 2 seed Garbiñe Muguruza was forced to withdraw ahead of her quarter-final match against No 5 seed Veronika Kudermetova with a viral illness.
“I’m really sad that I had to withdraw from the Hobart International,” the former World No 1 said in a statement.
“It’s such a special tournament for me and it has been great to return again this year. Thanks to all the wonderful fans and hopefully I can be back.”
The two-time major champion scored a pair of wins at this year’s event, beating Wang Yafan in her opening round before saving match point to beat Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur in a dramatic second round match on Wednesday.
The 26-year-old returned to Hobart this year for the first time in 6 years after accepting a wildcard, having won her first career WTA title in Tasmania in 2014.
Kudermetova became the first player through to the semi-finals where the Russian will face China’s Zhang Shuai, the No 4 seed, who dispatched America’s Lauren Davis, 6-1 6-4 in just over an hour.
In the doubles, No 5 seeds Sania Mirza & Nadiia Kichenok battled their way into the semi-finals after taking down the all-American duo of Vania King & Christina McHale, 6-2 4-6 [10-4].
It is the second consecutive victory for the returning Mirza, who is competing in her first tournament since 2017 after taking time off to have her son, Izhaan, who was in the stands.
The pair started out in control, breaking early to claim a 3-0 lead, and holding off 4 break points to stay in control before breaking again to win the set, 6-2.
The Americans were right back in the hunt in the second, saving 3 break points before claiming the decisive break at 4-3 to send them into a match tiebreak where there wasn’t much separating the teams, who stayed level through 4-4 when Mirza & Kichenok pulled away, reeling off the next 6 points in a row to book their place in the Hobart semifinals after an hour and 24-minute battle.
Also through to the semi-finals are Marie Bouzkova & Tamara Zidansek, who fought past Kateryna Bondarenko & Sharon Fichman, 6-3, 3-6, [10-4] to advance, and they will take on Mirza & Kichenok next.
In the other semi-final, the Belgian pair of Kirsten Flipkens & Alison Van Uytvanck take on the 2nd seeds Peng Shuai & Zhang from China.