Seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka faces doubles partner Elise Mertens for a place in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Aryna Sabalenka ?? vs Elise Mertens ?? Match Info
Date: Wednesday February 19
Tournament: WTA Dubai R2
Court: Court 1
Time: 5.00pm local time (1.00pm GMT)
Aryna Sabalenka vs Elise Mertens Head-to-Head
Level at 2-2
2019 | WTA Elite Trophy RR | Sabalenka 6-4 3-6 7-5
2018 | Rogers Cup R16 | Mertens 2-6 7-6(1) 6-0
2018 | Eastbourne R16 | Sabalenka 7-5 2-6 7-6(4)
2018 | Lugano final | Mertens 7-5 6-2
Aryna Sabalenka vs Elise Mertens Match Preview
Sabalenka and Mertens are used to taking to the same court together, but this time the doubles partners square off for the fifth time in singles, with the winner earning a spot in the Dubai quarter-finals on Wednesday.
What appeared to be a comfortable opening round for Sabalenka turned into a bit of a battle late on Tuesday night, with the seventh seed failing to close out Maria Sakkari in straights after leading 6-2 3-1. Sakkari, who reached the St. Petersburg semi-finals last week, staged a great fightback and won five of the next six games, but Sabalenka was able to regroup strongly and go on a big game winning streak of herself to finish off proceedings, claiming the first five games of the decider before completing a 6-2 4-6 6-1 victory.
It was a big win for Sabalenka, who avoided the mass exit of top seeds on Tuesday, with No. 3 Elina Svitolina, No. 4 and defending champion Belinda Bencic and No. 5 and Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin all bowing out.
“I’m happy to win this match. I knew it was going to be a great fight and that it was going to be tough,” Sabalenka said on-court after the match, “but somehow I was able to handle the pressure from her and I’m happy with the result.”
Sabalenka struggled for much of 2019 as she attempted to back up her stellar breakout 2018 season, where she won titles in Wuhan and New Haven, along with runner-up finishes in Lugano and Eastbourne, a semi-final in Cincinnati, five more quarter-finals and a fourth round run at the U.S. Open to finish the season at No. 11. Actually, Sabalenka managed to end 2019 at exactly the same spot in the rankings, but she did win seven less matches and if not for her prowess in China – where she won three WTA titles in Wuhan, Shenzhen and the WTA Elite Trophy – she would have finished a lot lower.
It hasn’t been the strongest start to 2020 for Sabalenka either – she looked good as she beat Simona Halep to make the Adelaide semi-finals, but she also lost in the opening round of the Australian Open and second round of Shenzhen, where she was defending champion, while she arrived in Dubai on the back of a Fed Cup loss to Kiki Bertens. Can the 21-year-old build some momentum in Dubai this week?
Her doubles partner might have other ideas. While Sabalenka was forced to go the distance late into Tuesday night, Mertens is fresh as a daisy after registering a one-sided 6-3 6-0 win over Wang Qiang in the opening round on Monday, prevailing in just 62 minutes.
Mertens first burst onto the scene in 2017 when she won her maiden WTA title in Hobart, improving her ranking from No. 120 to No. 35. The Belgian then took her game to the next level in 2018, defending her Hobart title before reaching her first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open. Mertens would go on to win 46 main draw matches that year (the third-most on tour), winning two more titles in Rabat and Lugano to end the season at No. 13 in the world. The 25-year-old went on to capture the biggest title of her career in Doha last year, beating three top 10 players en route to the title (Bertens, Kerber and Halep), while she also made the U.S. Open quarter-finals.
Mertens is a very solid 10-3 so far in 2020, making quarter-finals in Shenzhen and Hobart and the fourth round of the Australian Open, while she won both of her Fed Cup matches for Belgium over Zarina Diyas and Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan last weekend.
Aryna Sabalenka vs Elise Mertens Prediction
Sabalenka and Mertens combined for three huge doubles titles last season in Indian Wells, Miami and the U.S. Open, but they will be momentary enemies in Dubai on Wednesday. Their last three meetings have gone the distance, and there’s a solid chance this one will as well. Sabalenka has the firepower and weapons, but Mertens has better consistency and balance in her game. With the way she dismantled Wang and Sabalenka’s lapse against Sakkari, the Belgian might have the slight edge coming into this one.