Elise Mertens from Belgium defeated Estonian veteran Kaia Kanepi, 6-4 6-1, in the final of the WTA500 Gippsland Trophy to collect her 6th WTA career title on Sunday at Melbourne Park.
[Kanepi is] definitely a big hitter. When the first serves go in, you have to make the returns to let her play. That's what I did. I didn't give a lot of free points, so that's always good against her. You know, get that one ball back, let her play the game, get the balls back, but also try to, if you have the chance, attack. Elise Mertens
Mertens claimed her first WTA singles title in Hobart in 2017, defended that crown the next season, and went on to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final weeks later at the 2018 Australian Open.
The World No 20, who was seeded 7th here, reached the final after World No 3 Naomi Osaka withdrew with a shoulder injury, hitting 19 winners and clinching victory with her 6th ace in the process.
“The first tournament I played this year, so I’m very happy about the result, the way I played,” said a pleased Mertens, during her post-match press conference.
“It means a lot that we can play tennis again … I’m really looking forward to next week.”
In their last meeting at Roland Garros last year, Mertens needed to go all the way to a final-set tiebreak before quelling Kanepi, and levelling their head-to-head at 1-1.
This time, the top Belgian needed just 68 minutes to grab her first title since triumphing in Doha nearly two years ago.
Kanepi made it into her first WTA final since 2013, but was unable to trouble her Belgian opponent on this occasion, who out-hit her by 18 winners to 14 and converted all 4 of the break points she held.
“[Kanepi is] definitely a big hitter,” said Mertens. “When the first serves go in, you have to make the returns to let her play.
“That’s what I did. I didn’t give a lot of free points, so that’s always good against her.
“You know, get that one ball back, let her play the game, get the balls back, but also try to, if you have the chance, attack.”
Kanepi, at 35 the oldest player in the draw, was unable to win her 5th WTA singles title, but the former World No 15 and 6-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist has to be pleased by making her first singles final on the WTA Tour in 8 years.
An early break culminating with a divine backhand winner down the line helped Mertens zip ahead to a quick 3-0 lead, but the Belgian was unable to serve out the set at 5-3 as Kanepi powered to a break of her own.
Mertens, though, came out on top in the rallies towards the end of the opener to seal another break and claim the one-set lead.
She then collected 6 straight games as she cruised to a 5-0 lead in the second, punctuating that run with an ace to bring herself to the match game.
Kanepi got on the scoreboard and was able to swat away Mertens’s first match point at 5-1, but the Belgian converted her second chance with her 5th ace of the day.
The Gippsland Trophy doubles final between the top two-seeded teams went the way of No 1-seeded Czechs Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova, who stopped the Chan sisters from Chinese Taipei, Latisha & Hao-ching, 6-3,7-6(4).
In a match where 3 of the 4 players have hit World No 1 in the WTA doubles rankings, both Czechs and Latisha Chan, it was the 2018 Roland Garros and Wimbledon champions who came out on top in a 92-minute affair.
“We’re just very happy we’ve been able to play well, beat everybody, and get a title,” Krejcikova said, following their victory. “So, I hope we’re going to continue well next week.”
Krejcikova & Siniakova were more dominant when returning the Chan second serves, taking 64 percent of those points en route to the narrow victory.
It was a welcome return to the winner’s circle for the Czechs, who clinched their first title since triumphing in Shenzhen in January of 2020.
“They’re just very good,” Krejcikova said about the Chan sisters. “They just came in really good shape, and I wish them all the best for next week too.”