Fixture: (1) Elise Mertens vs Sorana Cirstea
Date: 25 April 2021
Tournament: TEB BNP Paribas Tennis Championship Istanbul
Venue: Istanbul, Turkey
Category: WTA 250
Prize money: $235,238
Live telecast: USA - Tennis Channel | UK - Eurosport
Elise Mertens vs Sorana Cirstea preview
Having made a disappointing start to the clay season at Charleston, Mertens has rebounded in style at Istanbul. The Belgian has looked in command throughout her campaign, dropping just one set all week - in her pre-quarter-final match against the in-form Viktorija Golubic.
Mertens' superb performance against reigning Charleston champion Veronika Kudermetova in the semi-finals showed just how hungry and motivated she is. The World No. 17 ran away to a commanding 6-1, 6-4 win, thus ending Kudermetova's nine-match winning streak.
After such a confidence-boosting victory, Mertens will now have her sights set on bagging her second singles title of the season. She had also triumphed at the Gippsland Trophy triumph back in February.
Meanwhile Sorna Cirstea might have slipped to 67th in the rankings, but she can still pack a punch. Having won the ITF $100,000 event in Dubai last December, the Romanian has continued to show flashes of her brilliance throughout 2021.
Cirstea beat Belinda Bencic at the Australian Open warm-up event, and followed that up with a big upset of Petra Kvitova at the year's first Slam. She then lost her way for a bit, but a return to clay has seen her get back to her vintage best.
The 2009 French Open quarterfinalist has been in top form in Istanbul, reaching the summit clash without conceding a single set. Wins over quality players such as Kateryna Kozlova, Anastasia Potapova, Fiona Ferro and Marta Kostyuk have put Cirstea in her first WTA final since Tashkent 2019.
The 31-year-old will leave no stone unturned to keep the momentum going and end her long title drought.
Elise Mertens vs Sorana Cirstea head-to-head
Having won both their encounters so far, Sorana Cirstea leads the head-to-head over Elise Mertens 2-0.
Cirstea beat the Belgian by a comfortable margin of 6-3, 6-0 at the French Open in 2016. She repeated the result at Doha two years later, where she emerged a 7-5, 6-4 winner.
Elise Mertens vs Sorana Cirstea prediction
Elise Mertens and Sorana Cirstea are efficient doubles players too, so there will be a lot of variety on display in the Istanbul final on Sunday. Both have been making regular forays to the net and throwing in the occasional slice-and-dropshot combination to disrupt their opponents' rhythm this week.
The key in this match will likely be the serve and unforced error count of the two players. Since producing nine aces against Golubic in the pre-quarters, Mertens' serve hasn't exactly been at its best. Her return has stood out though, helping her secure 11 breaks of serve over the next couple of matches.
The Belgian needs to keep up the pressure in her return games to subdue an opponent who has been playing some of her best tennis all week. Cirstea moves well on clay, has a solid serve, and hits with considerable power off the ground, so she is always a tough player to counter.
But the Romanian's power hitting can also her Achilles' heel. She tends to overpress at times, leading to a high number of unforced errors.
Cirstea has been able to keep her errors in check so far this week, by displaying controlled aggression throughout. But against a great returner like Mertens, that might be difficult to execute for a long time.
Prediction: Elise Mertens to win in three sets.