The players faced each other for the first time in a WTA match, and they've both successfully clinched their first WTA title this season - Mertens in Hobart, Kasatkina in Charleston.
Mertens, at her debut in New Haven, will reach her fifth quarterfinal of the year, and her career first at a Premier level.
Mertens stays solid against Kasatkina’s errors, clinches the first set
The first part of the match had seen the Belgian fully confident with her game, while her opponent struggled too much just to keep the ball in play, hitting way too many unforced errors that compromised her results since the beginning.
Mertens started well, holding easily to take the lead. Kasatkina, on the other hand, immediately started with a double fault, and then a backhand down the line from Mertens had her falling 0-30 down. She recovered quickly, scoring four points in a row to hold her serve. Her good performance didn't last long.
Mertens served well to hold, and quickly gained two chances to break on Kasatkina’s following game. Even if the Russian saved the first one from the net, a backhand error on the second gave the game away.
Mertens remained confident in her service games. With a more aggressive game and a better control of the rallies, she often forced her opponent on defense, or caught her off guard with well-placed winners, while the Russian too often fell victim of big errors with both her forehand and backhand.
Holding for a 4-1 lead, Mertens benefitted from yet another struggling game on serve from the Russian, who hit two forehand errors to drop two more break points; it was another backhand error that cost her the game, and gave her opponent a chance to serve out the match.
In her worst game of the entire set, however, Mertens hit two double faults and fell 0-40 down, giving Kasatkina her first chances to break in the entire set. Despite saving two of them with good combinations of serve and forehand winner, a third double-fault eventually cost her the game and gave the Russian one of the breaks back.
This false step from Mertens didn’t change the general flow of the set. Gaining her first set point on the Russian’s next service game, the Belgian benefitted of one more backhand error from her opponent, which closed the set with a 6-2 score line.
Kasatkina struggle to keep the lead, Mertens eventually prevails to win the match
The second set had been more balanced, both in the good and the bad. If Kasatkina could counter a still high number of errors with a more confident game and more winners, on the other hand, the Belgian showed a poorer performance compared to the first part of the match, and yet it had been good enough to grant her a straight-set win.
It’s the Russian who drew the first blood at the beginning of the set, helped by a couple of errors from the Belgian; the 20-year-old played aggressively to start the set with an early break.
Her lead, however, didn’t last. A terrible start on serve had her falling 0-40 down. She saved the first break points - with a forehand winner and a forehand error from her opponent - but on the third Mertens opened up the court to score a backhand winner that immediately gave her the break back.
On Merten’s serve, things flew once more on Kasatkina’s side, who showed a pretty solid game at the net to gain one more break point, converted thanks to an error from Mertens. This time, the Russian consolidated her lead, holding her serve to love for the first time since the beginning of the match - with a huge help from her opponent’s errors.
The following games had probably become highly decisive in retrospect; falling 0-30 down, Mertens seemed in great struggle again, and eventually dropped another break point that could have given the Russian a huge 4-1 lead. However, two more errors from the 20-year-old saved the day from the Belgian, who eventually managed to hold and stay on track.
This missed chance had a huge cost for the Russian, who lost her lead right away, with too many errors that allowed Mertens to go 3-all in the score, and back on serve.
The balance didn’t last. The Belgian didn’t show any better consistency while serving, with a double fault and backhand error that made her drop two break points. Kasatkina didn’t miss the chance, and scored with a passing shot to take back the lead. Lead that she missed right away, with another disastrous game on serve that saw her broken to love.
With another battled game, Mertens held to take the lead for the first time in the set. Forced to serve to stay in the match, Kasatkina found some better consistency, and held to 15 to go 5-all.
Mertens was forced to save one more break point - helped by yet another forehand error from the Russian - but she eventually held to keep the lead. In the following game, she hit a passing shot winner to deny Kasatkina the point for the tie-break. The Russian had another chance, but she then hit three forehand errors in a row, the last on Mertens’s first match point, ending the match with a final 6-2, 7-5 score line.
Stats and numbers
A big number of errors, many of them completely unforced, had been decisive for Kasatkina’s poor performance throughout all the match. In the first set, especially, she hit only 4 winners to 14 unforced errors, while her opponent balanced her 10 unforced errors with 12 winners. The Russian struggle was evident especially on serve, with 71% of first serves in, but only 35% of points won on her first serve. On the other hand, Mertens hit only 41% of first serves in, but could score many points with her second serve, which Kasatkina seemed unable to take advantage of.
The second set shows more balanced stats. A large number of errors from the Russian - 21 - was countered by 14 winners, while the Belgian couldn't replicate her positive first set stats, with 17 errors to 9 winners only. However, a better consistency on important moments had been crucial for the 21-year-old, who eventually prevailed in 1 hour and 24 minutes.
Elise Mertens will face either Magda Linette or Zhang Shuai for a place in her third semifinal of the year. With both, it will be a first career meeting at a WTA level.