Tennis

Clijsters inspires Mertens to hit Australian Open heights

Unseeded debutante thanks Belgium legend after blowing away Svitolina

Elise Mertens said she has been getting advice from her idol and Belgian great Kim Clijsters as her incredible winning run Down Under continued in the Australian Open quarter-finals yesterday.

The unseeded Melbourne Park debutante blew away world No. 4 Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final.

Mertens, 22, trains at the Clijsters Academy back home and revealed she had been receiving messages of advice from the four-time Grand Slam winner.

"Yeah, of course, a lot of times. She has been here before. She has the experience, so it's always nice to talk to her," she said of Clijsters, who lifted the Australian Open crown in 2011 as well as three US Open titles.

"And also, for the emotions, to see what she has to tell me or can, yeah, communicate."

World No. 37 Mertens, who is yet to drop a set, retained her Hobart title earlier this month and is on a 10-match unbeaten run in 2018 after becoming the first Belgian to make the last four since Clijsters in 2012.

"Her and Justine Henin... what they achieved was amazing, and of course I look up to them," Mertens said.

On court after the match, Mertens - who is also on an incredible 18-match unbeaten run on Australian soil dating back to qualifying in Hobart last year - had some words for Clijsters following the match in the middle of the night back home.

"Kim, thanks for watching and don't get too stressed."

Mertens is coached by boyfriend Robbe Ceyssens and has seen her world ranking rise from 120 at the end of 2016.

She will now leap into the top 20 for the first time when the new rankings are released at the end of the year's first Grand Slam.

"He's by my side all the time," she said of Ceyssens.

"Since we have been together, my game has only gone upward. All credit to him."

Mertens made all the initial running against Svitolina, returning aggressively and mixing up her game cleverly, taking every opportunity to approach the net and cut off Svitolina's passing avenues.

She secured the opening set 6-4 on the back of 16 winners and taking nine of 12 points at the net.

From then Svitolina, who later complained of being hampered by a hip injury, was never in the hunt.

"You know, she played great tennis. Long rallies. I couldn't push on the serve," said crestfallen fourth seed Svitolina, who saw her own nine-match unbeaten run after winning Brisbane ended abruptly.

"I gave her this chance to play well, and she did it."

Mertens completed the humbling of the fourth seed in 1hr 13min and will face Caroline Wozniacki for a place in Saturday's final.

Second seed Wozniacki marched into her second Australian Open semi-final by beating Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro 6-0, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2 last night.

After a one-sided start at Rod Laver Arena, the Dane met stiff resistance from the 39th-ranked Spaniard.

"I knew it wasn't going to be that easy... In the second set I had the chance to close it out so I was disappointed I didn't do that," Wozniacki, who made the semi-finals in 2011, said on-court.

"I'm just proud that I managed to stay cool and finish it off in the third set," she added.

"(Mertens) has had an amazing start to the year.

"It's going to be a tough one, but I'm excited for it." - AFP, REUTERS


YESTERDAY'S SELECTED RESULTS

WOMEN'S SINGLES, QUARTERS

  • E. Mertens bt E. Svitolina (x4) 6-4, 6-0
  • C. Suarez Navarro v C. Wozniacki (x2) 6-0, 6-7 (3/7), 6-2

MEN'S SINGLES, QUARTERS

  • K. Edmund bt G. Dimitrov (x3) 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
  • M. Cilic (x6) bt (retired) R. Nadal (x1) 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2, 2-0

TODAY'S MATCHES

WOMEN'S SINGLES, QUARTERS

  • A. Kerber (x21) v M. Keys (x17)
  • S.Halep (x1) v K. Pliskova (x6)

MEN'S SINGLES, QUARTERS

  • T. Sandgren v Chung Hyeon
  • T. Berdych (x19) v R. Federer (x2)
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