MELBOURNE—A year after opting out of qualifying for the Australian Open, Elise Mertens has reached the semifinals in her debut at the season-opening Grand Slam.
Mertens upset fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina, 6-4, 6-0, on Tuesday to extend her winning streak to 10 matches and be the first woman through to the semifinals at Melbourne Park.
She’s the first Belgian since Kim Clijsters in 2012 to reach the semifinals in Australia, and knew she had plenty of support at home.
“Kim, thanks for watching, I knew you sent me a message before the match—don’t be too stressy,” said Mertens, who trains at Clijsters’ academy. “I’m trying to be in your footsteps this week.”
The No. 37-ranked Mertens successfully defended her Hobart International title—she decided last year to target that title instead of entering Open qualifying—two weeks ago, and has now won five matches at Melbourne Park.
Mertens dominated against Svitolina, who also entered her first quarterfinal in Australia on a nine-match winning roll after winning the Brisbane International two week ago.
Svitolina had won their only previous tour-level match, but had no answers on Rod Laver Arena and later said hip trouble had been bothering her all year.
“She played great from the beginning of the year,” Svitolina said. “But, you know, when I give her opportunities to play and to play a good level, then of course she’s going to play. She’s going to go for shots.
“Now she’s in semifinal. Now she’s not just a player that’s up and down. She’s quite consistent, and we can see this.”
Mertens raced out to a 5-2 in the first set before Svitolina got her only service break. The second set was no contest. Mertens won a 27-point rally while holding serve in the fourth game, then hit a backhand winner into the open corner to break Svitolina in the next game for a 5-0 lead.
Svitolina framed an attempted overhead and hit it over the baseline to give Mertens match point, and the 22-year-old Belgian duly finished it with a backhand crosscourt winner to advance to her first major semifinal.
Mertens was one of the biggest movers on the women’s tour in 2017 as she improved her year-end ranking from 120 to 35 and won her first career title.
In the semis, she’ll play either second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki or Carla Suarez Navarro.
LAST AMERICAN STANDING
THE last American man standing at the Australian Open is through to the quarterfinals.
Tennys Sandgren, who had never won a Grand Slam match or beaten a top 10 player before the Australian Open started, upset No. 5-seeded Dominic Thiem on Monday to top his second-round victory over 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka.
The 26-year-old Sandgren, who entered the season’s opening major ranked 97th, missed a match point in the fourth set but held on for a 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (7), 6-3 win over Thiem.
“I’m staying calm and not getting too upset, not getting too up, not getting too down,” Sandgren said when asked how a player with only two Association of Tennis Professionals tour match victories kept believing he had what it takes to advance to a Grand Slam quarterfinal.
“I’ve been able to keep my emotions under control, which is a big deal because I can be an emotional person. That doesn’t go well with tennis, especially with a three-out-of-five-set match. You don’t have energy to waste on emotions.”
He is only the second man in the last 20 years to reach the quarterfinals in his Australian Open debut—Alexandr Dolgopolov did it in 2011. Before that, it was Nicolas Escude in 1998.
Most of his Sandgren’s previous Grand Slam appearances have been forgettable—first-round losses as a wild-card entry at last year’s French Open and US Open. The Tennessean failed to qualify for a major in 13 attempts, including from 2013 to 2016 at Melbourne Park.
Even his buildup for Melbourne was brief: first-round losses in India and at Auckland, New Zealand.
So, while highly ranked United States men, such as No. 8-seeded Jack Sock, No. 13-seeded Sam Querrey and No. 16-seeded John Isner, all went out in earlier rounds, Sandgren is through to the final eight.
After his match, he was asked at a news conference about the nature of some of his social-media activity, with a question suggesting he follows some accounts or retweets items from controversial right-wing sources.
“Look, who you follow on Twitter I feel doesn’t matter even a little bit,” Sandgren said. “I think it’s crazy to assume that. To say, ‘Well, he’s following X person, so he believes all the things that this person believes.’ I think it’s ridiculous.”
He was asked if he supports any far-right movements.
“No, I don’t. I don’t,” Sandgren said. “I find some of the content interesting. But no, I don’t, not at all. As a firm Christian, I don’t support things like that, no.”
By Tuesday morning, a number of tweets dating back to June 2016 had apparently been cleared from the history of Sandgren’s Twitter account.
In the quarterfinals on Wednesday, he’ll play Hyeon Chung, who upset six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in straight sets.