Not many would have expected this result, but Elise Mertens continues to surprise everyone as she reaches the quarterfinals of the US Open for the second year in succession, stunning second seed and home favourite Sofia Kenin in the fourth round under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Playing an exceptionally clean match, Mertens fired 19 winners to just seven unforced errors, a statistic you would not see frequently on the biggest stages of tennis, especially in the latter stages of a Grand Slam. A slow start saw Kenin spraying a series of unforced errors and despite an attempt to put out the fire, the American ended with 26 unforced errors which could not justify how well the Belgian played as Kenin had to go all for it, resulting in the high number of errors.
Mertens will now play the resurgent Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals, making this their first-ever meeting in singles. Azarenka earned a comeback win in the fourth round, beating 20th seed Karolina Muchova from a set down.
Mertens dominates the proceedings
Broken just twice en route her run to the fourth round, Kenin was the best-performing player on the ladies’ side in that aspect. However, the late-night match on Arthur Ashe started with Mertens claiming the immediate break, dictating play from the start. It was truly an impressive start from the Belgian, who lost to eventual champion Bianca Andreescu in the quarterfinal last year, as her tactics worked efficiently against the slow-starting Kenin.
Despite getting onto the scoreboard with a routine service hold, Kenin never looked comfortable as Mertens often dragged her wide of the court, forcing her to defend and use her backhands more than she would have liked. Nothing was going right for the Australian Open champion, who was aiming to be the first player since Naomi Osaka to win back-to-back Grand Slam titles and she was completely outplayed in the opening 25 minutes.
Mertens, booming with confidence and thriving with her tactics, broke Kenin once again for a commanding 5-1 lead and quickly dethroned Kenin as the favourite for the match. However, she faced her first real test of the night as the second seed came roaring back into contention — finding her feet and hitting more winners in an attempt to regain control. Three set points came and went for Mertens, with one wasted with a backhand error and Kenin saving the others with a dropshot winner and a passing shot.
Sensing the danger, Mertens quickly steadied the ship and pounced on Kenin using the power on her strokes, perfecting a backhand down-the-line winner to break for the third time and sealing the opening frame 6-3.
Mertens closes out the win
The start of the second set was filled with high-quality tennis as Kenin finally found some of her best shots, with Mertens still maintaining her high level of play. The first break opportunity came in the third game, with Kenin incorporating the backhand slice while on the defence which gave her time to react and rebound. Nonetheless, impressive serving from the Belgian prevented an early deficit as she slammed down an ace on break point.
Kenin felt close to a breakthrough but just could not win the important points as Mertens was rock solid and refused to let loose. After surviving yet another tough service game, the 16th seed finally drew the first blood — though she did not have to do much. Kenin, rushing through her service points, grew increasingly frustrated with herself and committed four consecutive unforced errors to get broken within just a little over than a minute.
That proved pivotal in the match outcome as Mertens consolidated her advantage in style, winning eight of her next nine service points and closing out the stunning upset with her eighth ace of the night.