“I have all mixed emotions, all good emotions,” she said. “I gave it all today, of course. It was a little stressy at the end, but I played my game and it went well today.”
Mertens, who entered this tournament ranked 37th, intended to play the qualifying competition here last year. But she had entered a WTA tournament in Hobart, Australia, at the same time, and she needed to lose her second round match against Sachia Vickery in order to be allowed to compete in Melbourne. After one game, Mertens called a medical timeout, but Vickery, who also had plans to play the qualifiers in Melbourne, beat her to the ripcord and retired from the match herself.
Mertens played on in Hobart and ultimately claimed her first WTA title there, launching her into the top 100 (Vickery lost in the first round of qualifying in Melbourne). Mertens continued to climb the rankings steadily, reaching a final in Istanbul, the semifinals in New Haven and Luxembourg, and the third round of the French Open.
Her draws in the last two Grand Slam events were daunting, facing eventual finalists in the first round of both tournaments: Venus Williams at Wimbledon and Madison Keys at the United States Open. But with a more forgiving path in Melbourne, Mertens has taken advantage of the draw and has reached the semifinals without losing a set.
While surprising, Mertens’s breakthrough follows a pattern in women’s tennis, which has seen a player reach her first major semifinal at 18 of the last 19 Grand Slam tournaments, with last year’s U.S. Open the only exception.
Svitolina, who has won several WTA titles, including in Brisbane earlier this month, was also seeking her first major semifinal, but lost in the quarterfinals for a third time. She said after the match that she had been dealing with a right hip injury throughout the tournament, but also gave credit to Mertens for her strong start to the year and consistent play.
“She’s playing a good level, so I had to push myself,” Svitolina said. “She didn’t give me opportunities. All the credit to her, because she played really good tennis.”