Mertens, Sabalenka Win Second Major Together

Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka (photo: Rob Prezioso/Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, February 19, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The second-seeded team of Elise Mertens of Belgium and Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus won the Australian Open women’s doubles title, their second Grand Slam crown as a team, Friday afternoon on Rod Laver Arena.

Mertens and Sabalenka beat No. 3 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both from the Czech Republic, 6-2, 6-3, to complete a 6-0 run en route to lifting the winner’s trophy. It improved upon their quarterfinal finish in Melbourne a year ago.

Both Mertens (ranked 20th) and Sabalenka (World No. 7) are accomplished Top 20 singles players. Since forming as a doubles team two years ago, they’ve become quite successful by winning four titles – all of them on hardcourts. After winning the “Sunshine Double” – Indian Wells and Miami – two years ago, they went on to capture the 2019 US Open title. In 2020, they finished 14-6 and won a title at Ostrava near the end of the season. Overall, they have compiled an impressive 49-16 win-loss record.

“We had a really good couple of weeks,” Mertens said of the team’s victory. “We had a tough draw actually in doubles, so we’re really happy that we pulled through. Some days, yeah, like today, we just kept on fighting.”

In their run up to the championship match, Mertens and Sabalenka defeated No. 7 seeds Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara of Japan, 6-2, 6-0. Then, they took out the No. 4 seeds Nicole Melichar of the United States and Demi Schuurs from the Netherlands, 7-5, 6-4.

During their press conference, Mertens revealed the key to the team’s success: “I think it’s good not to be all stressy all the time. We have singles, and that is pretty stressy already. Then we have doubles, so we try to make it fun. But, of course, when we’re on court, we want to win,” she said.

Then, Sabalenka dropped a bit of a bombshell. The Minsk native said because she wants to focus more of her energy on singles during the season ahead, it’s likely she and Mertens will forgo playing doubles together in the three remaining Grand Slam events. However, they plan to team together in upcoming tournaments in Dubai and Miami.

“I feel like it’s a little bit more stress on the Grand Slams,” Sabalenka said. “I just want to make it – what I want to make it? Yeah, focus on singles and manage my energy.”

Ram/Salisbury reach men’s doubles final

Defending champions Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury from Great Britain reached the men’s doubles final with a 6-4, 7-6 (2) victory over No. 6 seeds Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares from Brazil on Friday. The No. 5 seeds, who didn’t get to train before the start of the Aussie fortnight because Ram was in a strict quarantine lockdown, will face the ninth-seeded team of Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Filip Polasek from Slovakia in Sunday’s final.

Stosur/Ebden advance to mixed doubles final

The Australian wild card duo of Samantha Stosur and Matthew Ebden beat Diana Krawczyk of the United States and Joe Salisbury from Great Britain, 7-5, 5-7, 10-5, to reach Saturday night’s title match. They will face Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic and Rajeev Ram from the United States, the 2019 Australian Open champions. Krejcikova, who won the 2020 mixed doubles title with Nikola Mektic, is going after her third straight mixed doubles crown.

Kasatkina wins Phillip Island Trophy title

Russia’s Daria Kasatkina ended a more than two-year title drought by winning the WTA Phillip Island Trophy tournament at Melbourne Park Friday afternoon.

The World No. 75 Kasatkina hit 35 winners en route to her 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 13 seed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic.

“Feels incredible, to be honest,” Kasatkina said following her two hour and five-minute triumph. “I felt like one big backpack with stones got out from my shoulders.”

Until Friday, Kasatkina had not won a WTA title since Moscow in 2018, while the 50th-ranked Bouzkova is still searching for her first WTA crown.

• The doubles title was won by the team of Anita Raina of India and Kamilla Rakhimova from Russia, in their first tournament paired together. They beat the all-Russian team of Anna Blinkova and Anastasia Potapova, 2-6, 6-4, 10-7.

Raina became just the second Indian woman following former World No. 1 Sania Mirza to win a WTA title. “It was a funny one how we ended up together,” she said during the trophy presentation. “But I’m so proud of us – and your fighting spirit is great.”

Karolina Muchova expresses her appreciation

Happy 45th Birthday, Chanda Rubin

The Way Back Machine / Mary Pierce, 1995 Australian Open

Naomi Osaka vs. Jennifer Brady: It all comes down to this

Three-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka of Japan goes after her her fourth major singles title and second at the Australian Open when she plays American Jennifer Brady in the women’s final on Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. AEDT (9:30 a.m. Central European, 8:30 a.m. London, 3:30 a.m. New York).

The World No. 3 Osaka was overpowering in her 6-3, 6-4 semifinal victory over 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in Thursday’s semifinals. She brings a 20-match winning streak into the title match against Brady, whom she beat in an exciting three-set 2020 US Open semifinal.

Brady, who reached the final with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Karolina Muchova, was one of the 72 players who was forced to quarantine in her hotel room for 14 days without being able to leave to practice because someone on her flight tested positive for the coronavirus after they landed in Melbourne.

By the numbers

What they’re saying

What they’re writing

Much has written about Serena Williams‘s semifinal loss to Naomi Osaka on Thursday, which ended her latest bid for a 24th Grand Slam. Here are a few columns worth sharing:

What they’re sharing on social media

Barbora Krejcikova / Nice plate, experience, accomplishment

Rajeev Ram / Busy weekend ahead

Stefanos Tsitsipas / It wasn’t meant to be