Belgian Elise Mertens is the Hobart International 2017 singles champion, capping a fairytale week to win her maiden WTA title.
The world No.127-ranked qualifier defeated third seed and world No.40 Monica Niculescu 6-3 6-1 in a 74-minute final at the Domain Tennis Centre today.
“It’s amazing, a dream come true. I have no words to describe it,” Mertens said of her victory.
The 21-year-old made a nervous start in her first WTA final, losing nine of the first 10 points. She settled to break Niculescu in the third game and from there Mertens started to take control.
“I was really glad I got the third game so it was 2-1 instead of 3-0, I knew it could make a lot of difference but I kept calm and I went for it,” Mertens said.
The first-time finalist used her forehand to dominate, being aggressive and not allowing her more experienced opponent to dictate points. It was a game plan clearly working, with Mertens taking the set in 34 minutes.
Niculescu has a reputation as one of the biggest fighters on tour – and she showed exactly why. She started to attack on her backhand and found herself back in the match early in the second set.
Just like the first set, the third game was a long and crucial one. Mertens struggled on serve, but managed to stand firm as Niculescu challenged. It was a crucial hold, one that further dinted Niculescu’s confidence. From there Mertens then won the next three games to clinch the title.
“I played really well today,” Mertens said. “I didn’t make a lot of mistakes, mentally I was strong to stay in the rallies and take my chances when it was needed. I think my serve worked pretty well.
“I didn’t really expect to win today. I was trying to, keeping myself motivated and mentally strong because I know she can be really tough to play against. She’s a tough player.”
She becomes just the third qualifier to win the title in the tournament’s 24-year history, following in the footsteps of German Mona Barthel in 2012 and Spaniard Garbine Muguruza in 2014. Mertens is also the third Belgian player to win the title, following in the footsteps of mentor Kim Clijsters in 2000 and current Belgian Fed Cup captain Dominique Monami in 1997.
It marked Mertens’ fourth top-1oo win of the tournament, having only previously recorded two in her career. The title also means she will make her top-1oo debut when next week’s rankings are released, projected to go to a new career-high of No.82.
Niculescu admitted she was hampered by an abdominal muscle injury throughout the match, but gave credit to her opponent.
“I don’t want to blame injury, she played very good,” she said. “I tried everything. I tried to come to the net, put drop shots, stay with her, but she was not missing. I tried maybe too much and I was missing. Today I felt slow on the court, not so much energy, and that counted.”
It was Niculescu’s best result in eight visits to Hobart – and she vowed to be back again next year.
“I’m going to keep coming back to, who knows, I win it,” she said.