New York | Mertens & Sabalenka win first Grand Slam doubles title
Elise Mertens & Aryna Sabalenka won their first career Grand Slam title with a hard-fought 7-5 7-5 win over Ash Barty & Victoria Azarenka in the US Open doubles final on Sunday.
I just think it’s the crowd. I mean they keep me going every time, I can’t believe we won a Grand Slam. It’s all so new,” she added. “We’re a good team and I hope we’re going to play doubles again in the future. Elise Mertens
Rhe tension-filled encounter ended in dramatic fashion when both Mertens & Sabalenka were drawn into the net and Barty sent a lob over their heads.
Sabalenka raced back to track it down and managed to put it back in play but Azarenka misfired with her overhead smash handing over the glory.
Mertens fell to the court and Sabalenka looked to the sky in disbelief before they embraced.
Azarenka & Barty had outplayed their opponents for much of the match, but they were only able to convert 2 of their 8 break points, while Mertens & Sabalenka won all 4 of their opportunities.
The win caps a dominant run by the pair, who completed the Sunshine Double with wins in Indian Wells and the Miami Open earlier in the year before making their first appearance in a major final together.
Mertens said they fed off the energy of the lively New York crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I just think it’s the crowd. I mean they keep me going every time,” the Belgian said in her on-court interview. “I can’t believe we won a Grand Slam.
“It’s all so new,” she added. “We’re a good team and I hope we’re going to play doubles again in the future.”
The Belarusian Sabalenka tipped her hat to their opponents for the thrilling battle.
“Thank you girls, for this amazing final. It was a great fight and I enjoyed every second,” she said.
The win denied Barty in her bid for back-to-back US Open doubles victories after claiming her maiden Grand Slam doubles title with CoCo Vandeweghe in New York last year.
“I thought the level was incredibly high,” Barty said. “It was a great two weeks.”
“I love playing with Ashleigh,” Azarenka said. “It was a pleasure to play with her and I hope we can continue to play together in the future.”
Mertens & Sabalenka, who are both accomplished singles players, said they see doubles growing in popularity as the bigger names get involved.
“More singles players are also playing doubles, more big names playing doubles,” said Mertens, who reached the quarter-finals of the tournament in singles.
“Because of the singles players playing doubles, the level going up and it’s more interesting to watch,” added Sabalenka, who was seeded 9th in singles.
“I think the level of doubles right now is a little bit higher than it was before.”
It has been a brilliant season on American hard courts for the No 4 seeded pair from Belgium and Belarus.
“I think from the start of the season, start of the year actually, well, we were, like, ‘We’re going to play together,'” Mertens said in their champions’ press conference.
“We didn’t think we would achieve this big thing. Really happy about it, and I think we are growing as two doubles players playing together.”
Mertens & Sabalenka pulled off an undefeated 10-0 streak in March to capture the Sunshine Double, including a 7-6(6) 7-5 win over Azarenka & Barty in the Miami semi-finals, and then went on to reach the semi-finals at Roland Garros and the Wimbledon quarters.
“First time we played against them in Miami, I think, like the first 3 games was something crazy because Elise was telling me, ‘Just cool down a little bit,'” Sabalenka admitted.
“This time, I was just trying to focus on each point and try to bring my best on the court. I think it was a crazy good match today. Great level, good atmosphere.”
Played out on Ashe, the teams were evenly matched in service effectiveness, and Azarenka & Barty even scored more winners and fewer unforced errors than the victorious team.
The 8th-seeded team, however, were undone by a 2-for-8 conversion rate on break points, while Mertens & Sabalenka won all 4 of the break points they held in the clash.
“I think maybe the consistency,” Mertens responded, when asked about the key to the match. “I think we started off a little shaky with the returns, but after we tried to make those returns, tried to stay aggressive. [Sabalenka] made some amazing shots at some points.”
Azarenka & Barty took the initial lead, after a big Azarenka backhand earned her team a break of Mertens’s serve, at love, to go up 3-1.
Mertens & Sabalenka immediately got back on serve, after Barty ended her next service game with an untimely double fault.
Sabalenka survived 2 break points on her serve in the following game, as the teams stayed on serve through 4-3.
Barty commandingly put her team up 5-4, holding to love with 2 consecutive aces, but Sabalenka withstood the pressure, holding serve for 5-5, then blasting big shots at the opposing team to earn a break point in the next game, after Azarenka & Barty led 40-15 on Azarenka’s serve.
On that point, Barty pushed a volley wide at the end of a rally to cede the 6-5 lead to the No 4 seeds.
With Mertens serving for the set, strong play from Azarenka brought her team to 0-30, but the Belgian rebounded to set point.
Sabalenka netted a volley to squander that chance, but she recovered with a drop volley winner to line up a 2nd set point and knocked off an overhead winner to claim the opening frame.
In the 2nd set, the teams traded breaks and stayed on serve to 5-4, with Mertens saving 4 break points on her own service game at 4-3.
The 11th game turned into a bad case of deja vu for Azarenka when, up 40-15 on her serve, Mertens & Sabalenka hit 2 consecutive winners to level and the No 8 seeds then made 2 straight unforced errors to dump the service game.
Mertens stepped up to serve out the match and, at 6-5, 40-30, championship point, the 2 teams played an incredible rally, and Barty threw up a defensive lob that put Mertens & Sabalenka on the back foot.
They were able to get the ball back short, and it looked like Barty & Azarenka would even the score to deuce, but Azarenka struck her overhead long, and the victors dropped to the ground, celebrating their win.
This is the first Grand Slam trophy of any kind for Mertens & Sabalenka, who both primarily focus on singles.
“I have to thank Aryna,” Mertens said at the trophy ceremony. “She keeps me going, I keep her going. We’re a good team. I hope we’ll [continue to] play doubles in the future, but I think so.”
Deadpanned Sabalenka: “I will think about it.”
Interestingly, Azarenka & Barty also focus on singles play as well, which means that Sunday’s championship trophy match featured no doubles specialists.
It was a tough fortnight for Azarenka, who lost to Sabalenka, her younger compatriot, in the first round of the singles and ended the tournament with a loss to her in doubles.
When Mertens & Sabalenka teamed up at the Australian Open for the first time earlier this year, there were some signs that they would d be a potent doubles force, with their contrasting styles – Mertens the consistent counterpuncher and Sabalenka a very aggressive base-liner.
Now they have qualified for the 2019 Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen to be held in Shenzhen, China from 27 October – 3 November for a record-breaking $14 million in prize money.
“This has been an amazing year for us on the doubles court,” said Mertens. “It’s an honour to qualify for the WTA Finals for my second time, and I’m really excited to compete in Shenzhen with Aryna.”
Sabalenka added: “Shenzhen is a very special place for me – it’s where I started my season by winning the singles title and now, I’m looking forward to ending my season there – and hopefully with another trophy.”
Mertens will make her second consecutive appearance at the WTA Finals, having competed in the doubles field alongside Demi Schuurs in 2018, while Sabalenka will make her debut showing at the year-end finale.
They become the second of 8 doubles team to secure their position in Shenzhen following Hsieh Su-Wei & Barbora Strycova, who clinched their spot earlier this month.
Barty becomes the 1st of 8 singles players to secure her spot at the Finals, following her standout year that saw her lift her career-first WTA Premier Mandatory trophy at the Miami Open presented by Itaú, her maiden Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros, and become the first Australian woman to reach the WTA World No 1 ranking since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1976.
“It’s been a goal from the very start of the year to qualify for the WTA Finals in Shenzhen,” said Barty. “I’m proud of the work my team and I have put in to get to this point, and I’m honoured to be among the Top 8 players of the season.”
Following her title run at Roland Garros, the Australian extended her match win streak to 15 matches, the longest streak on tour this season, by capturing the title at the Nature Valley Classic at Birmingham, and reaching the round of 16 at Wimbledon.
With three titles to her credit, Barty is tied for the most titles won in 2019 along with Karolina Pliskova and Bianca Andreescu.
The only player to reach the second week at all of the majors this season, Barty will reclaim the WTA World No 1 ranking on Monday, having held the top ranking for 7 weeks earlier this season from 24 June through 11 August.
Barty made her debut showing at the WTA Finals in the doubles field in 2017 alongside Casey Dellacqua, and returned in 2018 with CoCo Vandeweghe after the pair lifted their career first Grand Slam doubles title at the US Open.
The 2019 Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen features the world’s best players vying for a record-breaking US$14 million in prize money and 2 of the most prestigious titles in women’s tennis.
The Top 8 singles players and doubles teams on the Porsche Race to Shenzhen, which includes 53 WTA tournaments and 4 Grand Slams, will compete in a round-robin format with the singles champion taking home the Billie Jean King Trophy and the doubles champions lifting the WTA Finals Martina Navratilova Trophy.
The winner of the Porsche Race to Shenzhen – the player who finishes in pole position earning the top seed at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen – will not only seal a spot at the season-ending showpiece, but also be congratulated with a new Porsche.