There must be something special in Hobart that Elise Mertens loves. The Belgian won her maiden WTA title last year in the Tasmanian capital. Twice was indeed very nice for the Mertens as she successfully defended her title at the Hobart International after defeating Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 as she'll enter the opening Grand Slam of the year once again as a champion.
Quick Start For Defending Champion
The opening game of the match already saw some trouble for Buzarnescu as she was broken to start the match to give Mertens just the start she needed to get her title defense on the right foot. The 29-year-old Romanian broke right back though in the following service game but struggled on her serve once again to open the match with three straight breaks.
Mertens finally held in her second service game to consolidate the break for a 3-1 lead and then was once again threatening to break the Romanian's serve for a commanding 4-1 lead in the opening set. Buzarnescu was serving break point down and dumped a routine backhand in the middle of court right into the net as the 22-year-old Belgian took that 4-1 lead.
The 22-year-old held at love for a 5-1 lead and then took the set as the Romanian hit another error, this time a forehand long, to put Mertens a set away from successfully defending her title.
Buzarnescu Fights Back
Despite a horrid first set, the Romanian was not going to let an opportunity of a first WTA title out of her sights. Buzarnescu was finally finding her rhythm in the match, holding it together throughout rallies and keeping errors down. Most importantly though, she was holding serve, unlike the first set.
The second set contrasted the first in a big way with only one break of serve compared to five in the opener. Both women held their ground when break point down. Buzarnescu saved a break point serving for two-all, and Mertens saved a couple of break points serving for a 4-3 lead.
Mertens would be the player to crack in the ninth game of the set. Buzarnescu went on the attack in the middle of the rally at 4-4, 30-30, to go up 30-40 and get the break point chance. She went on to convert with an unreturnable serve to send the Hobart final to a final set.
Mertens Goes Back-To-Back
Like the opening set, both women were getting looks to break serve early on. Mertens saved two break points in her second service game and would break for a 3-1 lead, breaking at the third time of asking. She held for a 4-1 lead as the pressure was mounting on a Buzarnescu to not get blown out in the final set.
The 29-year-old struggled but managed to keep the pressure on Mertens after she was nearly broken for a 1-5 deficit. She held off four match points against her serve to force Mertens to serve for the match. It was no problem for the Belgian who went on to capture a second straight Hobart title.