Fixture: (1) Aryna Sabalenka vs (2) Elise Mertens
Date: 15 November 2020
Tournament: Upper Austria Ladies Linz Open 2020
Venue: Linz, Austria
Category: WTA International
Surface: Indoor hardcourt
Prize money: $202,250
Match timing: 3 pm local time, 7.30 pm IST
Live telecast: USA - ESPN / Tennis Channel
Aryna Sabalenka vs Elise Mertens preview
The final WTA tournament of the season - the Linz Open - will see a blockbuster summit clash on Sunday, between top seed Aryna Sabalenka and second seed Elise Mertens.
World No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka came to Linz in a rich vein of form, having won the last tournament she played in Ostrava. And in the process of securing a place in the final this week, the Minsk-born ace won her eighth match in a row.
Sabalenka, who also won Doha back in February, will have her sights set on winning her third trophy of the season to end 2020 on a high.
As the top seed in Linz, the 22-year-old displayed superb determination and poise in her first three matches of the week. She breezed past Jasmine Paolini 6-4, 6-4 in the first round, and then blew away Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele 6-0, 6-3 in the second. In the quarterfinals, Sabalenka got the win when Oceane Dodin retired with the Belarusian leading 6-3, 3-3.
Sabalenka was tested for the first time by World No. 74 Barbora Krejcikova in the semifinals. But after dropping the second set, the Belarusian was able to come back strongly in the decider for a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 win.
Elise Mertens meanwhile continues to be one of the most consistent players on the WTA tour since the restart. The World No. 21 has built an impressive 34-12 win-loss record for the year, with 23 of those victories coming in the last three months.
The Belgian has now reached her second final of the year, three months after making the title match in Prague. But it hasn't been the easiest of weeks for Mertens at Linz; she has had to grind out three-set wins in three of her four matches.
Mertens surprisingly dropped the first set to qualifier Anhelina Kalinina in the first round before recovering to win 2-6, 6-1, 6-2. In the second round, she faced stiff resistance from Russian veteran Vera Zvonareva, whom she edged 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.
While she had an easy 6-4, 6-1 win over Veronika Kudermetova, Mertens had to dig deep to beat 2018 runner-up Ekaterina Alexandrova 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 in the semis.
Aryna Sabalenka vs Elise Mertens head-to-head
Aryna Sabalenka and Elise Mertens have crossed paths five times on the WTA tour, with Sabalenka having a slight 3-2 edge in the head-to-head.
Their first meeting - the Lugano final in 2018 - went Mertens' way, but Sabalenka won three of their next four showdowns. Their most recent face-off was at Dubai this year where the Belarusian emerged victorious 6-4, 6-3.
Aryna Sabalenka vs Elise Mertens prediction
Aryna Sabalenka and Elise Mertens are in fact regular doubles partners. They have achieved a lot of success together, with the 2019 US Open women's doubles title being the biggest highlight.
Needless to say, Sabalenka and Mertens know each other's game inside out.
Sabalenka is one of the hardest hitters of the ball on the tour right now, with a strong serve to boot. The World No. 11 has already produced 35 aces in four matches this week.
The indoor conditions are well-suited to Sabalenka's uber-aggressive game, something that was also evident during her title run at Ostrava last month.
Elise Mertens on the other hand is an aggressive counterpuncher who likes to take the ball on the rise. And while her serve has been inconsistent this week, her fighting spirit has shone throughout her Linz campaign.
Nowhere was that more evident than in her semifinal against Ekaterina Alexandrova. Mertens struck seven aces in the match but undid the good work with 11 double faults, before ultimately willing herself across the finish line through sheer self-belief.
The Belgian would need to make serious improvements to her game for the final though, because mere determination will not be enough against the irrepressible Sabalenka. What would also work to the Belarusian's advantage is the fact that she has spent two hours less on the court than Mertens.
If the match gets tight, the balance is likely to tilt in favor of the fresher Sabalenka.
Prediction: Aryna Sabalenka to win in straight sets.