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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, January 22, 2018

Elina Svitolina is one of the quickest lateral movers in the sport, but Elise Mertens shoved Svitolina into shadows of obscurity on Rod Laver Arena today.

In a clash of undefeated players, Mertens played relaxed all-court tennis reeling off seven straight games in shredding Svitolina, 6-4, 6-0, to charge into her first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open.

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Contesting her fifth career major, the Australian Open debutant is the first Belgian Grand Slam semifinalist since Kirsten Flipkens reached the final four at the 2013 Wimbledon.

"I'm without words," Mertens told Rennae Stubbs afterward. "I gave it all today of course was a little stressed at the end, but I played my game and it went well today."

The 22-year-old Mertens, who opened the year successfully defending her Hobart title, raised her record to 10-0 on the season and will be a serious semifinal threat against either second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki or Carla Suarez Navarro.

Wozniacki warded off Mertens in three sets in the Bastad semifinals on clay last summer; Mertens edged Suarez Navarro in the Bastad round of 16 last summer.

Mertens, who sometimes trains with former world No. 1 Kim Clijsters back home in Belgium, showed the finishing power of the 2011 Australian Open champion.

Moving into the court, Mertens pressured Svitolina with proactive court positioning and sometimes finished with the swing volley. Mertens struck 26 winners, converted five of nine break points and was the aggressor from the first ball.

It’s a bruising loss for Svitolina, who suffered her third major quarterfinal loss—and saw her shot to gain the world No. 1 ranking denied.

Six women started the tournament with a shot to finish No. 1, now only three—No. 1 Simona Halep, No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki and sixth-ranked Karolina Pliskova—can conclude the tournament holding down the top spot.

Outplayed in the opening set, Svitolina strusk short Both women saved a break point in their opening service holds.

Then Mertens made her move.

Smacking jolting returns in succession, the 22-year-old Belgian broke for 2-1. That break started a surge of eight straight points as Mertens exploited a double net-cord shot that crawled over to back up the break.

It was as if Svitolina was waiting for something to happen, while Mertens was making it happen.

"She's a great mover," Mertens said. "She’s a really strong player. She started well at the beginning of the year. I knew it was gonna be tough. I tried to play aggressive, make her move come, to net a little bit more."

The Svitolina two-handed backhand is her most stable shot, but Mertens attacked it repeatedly. A jarring crosscourt backhand gave her break point and Mertens bolted a backhand down the line earning the double break for a 5-2 lead.




Svitolina answered with a two game run, firing an ace and a body serve to hold for 4-5. That was her final stand.

Standing her ground in a 21-shot rally to open the game, Mertens zipped an ace for 30-all then cracked a forehand for set point. When Svitolina whacked a wild forehand, Mertens had a one-set lead after 41 minutes.

Court positioning and ambition were the keys to the match. Mertens took the ball on the rise and actively moved into the court cutting off the angles and pressuring Svitolina.

Following a backhand to net, Mertens snapped off an easy overhead to start the second set with a break.

Continuing to crowd the baseline, the Belgian took the ball earlier and took Svitolina’s time away. Mertens backed up the break stretching her lead to a set and 2-0.

Pushed well backhand behind the baseline, Svitolina was often operating out of the shadows and victimized by the Belgian’s ability to drive the ball down the line off either wing. Svitolina pasted a forehand into net gifting the second break and a 3-0 lead.




Stepping into the court, Mertens continued to clock shots into the corners keeping Svitolina on the move. Prevailing in a physical 27-shot rally for ad, Mertens extended to 4-0 with a shout as Svitolina netted another forehand.



Battering away at the Ukrainian in a forehand to forehand exchange, Mertens crept inside the court and cranked a backhand down the line breaking for the third time in a row for 5-0.

 

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