Elise Mertens’ dream 2018 continues as she reached the second week of the 2018 US Open, the third time it happened in a Major this year for the Belgian. Having the best year of her career thus far, Mertens recorded her best performance in every Grand Slam and broke new heights in her career, but this time she reached the fourth round here in Flushing Meadows with a terrific 6-3, 7-6 win over the dangerous Barbora Strycova, having saved three set points in the second set.
Suffering a slight wobble in the second set which saw her lose a 4-2 lead and was just one point away from losing the set thrice, Mertens produced the perfect rebound as she claimed the impressive win after marathon two hours and three minutes, which could be considered lengthy for a straight-sets match.
Mertens will face the red-hot defending champion and third seed Sloane Stephens in the fourth round and will battle it out for a place in the quarterfinal. The Belgian had previously defeated the American home favourite at the Western and Southern Open two weeks ago, but now it will be a tougher task considering Stephens excels on the biggest stages.
Mertens overcomes a slight hiccup to take the opening set
Mertens, coming into the encounter in some impressive form, came out of the blocks firing and earned a confident service hold to start the match with. Strycova, with her all-court tennis, was feeling the early nerves out on Louis Armstrong Stadium but still managed to fend off a break point with her solid play to get onto the scoreboard as well. Both players were unable to comfortably find winners, but both were extremely solid at the baseline and produced incredible groundstroke rallies which left the crowd in awe.
A tricky and lengthy service game saw Mertens surviving without conceding a break point, and her efforts had an early reward as Strycova committed a rare volley error at the net to gift Mertens the first breakthrough of the day. The Czech would rue her missed opportunities as she sent a backhand into the net on her first break point before Mertens perfectly closed out the game with an ace to consolidate the break for a commanding 4-1 lead.
Strycova managed to rattle off consecutive games to erase the deficit and return on serve, but her errors came untimely as she threw in two double-faults in the eighth game to get broken once more, allowing Mertens to have the golden opportunity to serve out the set. Pouncing on every chance to charge towards the net, the Belgian closed out the set 6-3 with her 11th winner after a tricky 48 minutes of play.
Mertens comes back from the brink to triumph
A wobbly start to the second set saw Mertens struggling early on but rebounding to save a break point with a strong backhand winner and ultimately holding for 1-1 after suffering a slight scare. However, the momentum completely shifted its master as Strycova experienced a lapse in focus which saw her trail by a set and a break.
Mertens seemed to be gradually running away with the victory after consolidating the break to love, but lost eight of the next 10 points at 4-2 up, allowing Strycova to come out of nowhere to level the scores. The Czech seemed determined to send the match into a deciding set and stepped up her level of play; producing an unbelievable comeback from 0-40 down at 4-4 to hold serve, saving those break points in some style.
Mertens was not affected mentally, though many thought she would crumble from there. Serving to stay in the set at 5-6 down, she had to dig deep and save off three set points and Strycova was being too overly passive on those pivotal points which could have changed the outcome of the match. Ultimately, a tiebreak had to be played to decide the winner.
Coming from a 1-3 deficit early on, Mertens benefitted from Strycova’s blatant unforced errors as the Czech sent a drive volley straight into the net, a point which could have given her a three-point advantage. A forehand error by the world number 23 finally helped Mertens to seal the tough win after two hours and three minutes, concluded with a warm hug at the net between both players.