Qualifier Elise Mertens won an unlikely first WTA title of her career on Saturday, upsetting No. 3 seed Monica Niculescu 6-3, 6-1 in the final of the Hobart International in Australia.
Aside from needing to qualify to even reach the main draw, the tournament win was surprising considering the Belgian reportedly tried, unsuccessfully, to retire from her second-round match so that she could rush to Melbourne in time to compete in the Australian Open qualifying.
After only one game played in the second-round match, video caught Mertens and opponent Sachia Vickey of the United States both calling for trainers, both vying to retire from the match and make it to Melbourne. Unfortunately for Mertens, or fortunately in the end, Vickery was quicker on the draw and retired first, allowing Mertens to advance but locking her into Hobart.
“I went 100 percent for my decision to stay here, and I’m really glad I did!” Mertens said after the final.
The 21-year-old will move into the Top 100 on the WTA rankings on Monday.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “I have no words to describe it. I beat four Top 100 players this week; my level today was good, I had a plan, and it worked.”
Mertens, who trains at the Kim Clijsters Academy, beat top-seeded Kiki Bertens en route to the final, where she had little problem taming the slicing-and-dicing game of Niculescu.
“I played a lot of different [type] players,” Mertens said. “One played hard and flat, another sliced, so I think I was mentally strong this week to prepare for each match. My body has to recover, but I’m happy to have been able to play at this level.”
After falling behind 2-0 in the first set, Mertens won 12 of the final 14 games.
“I hadn’t played her before, and she has a forehand slice, which no one has on the tour,” Mertens said. “I was glad to have a third game, because 3-0 might have made a big difference. But I stayed calm and went for it…I didn’t really expect to win today. I was trying to keep myself motivated because she’s tough to play against.”
Niculescu fell to 3-5 in career finals. The 29-year-old last won at Luxembourg in 2016.
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