A week ago if someone told Elise Mertens that she’d be in the Australian Open semi-final, she’d have chuckled. At least, that’s what she told the reporters after her dominant win over world No 4 Elina Svitolina on Tuesday.
She said she has been getting advice from her idol and Belgian great Kim Clijsters as her incredible winning run Down Under continued.
The unseeded Melbourne Park debutant blew away world number four 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 time. 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 number 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.”
Top-20 rank beckons
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 complained after 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 either second seed Caroline Wozniacki or unseeded Carla Suarez Navarro for a place in Saturday’s final.