When trying to pick out the matches that would deliver on the first day of Wimbledon 2017, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams’ match against the rising Elise Mertens was one that appealed to a large audience among many tennis fans.
It is remarkable to think that Williams is one of the serious contenders for a sixth Wimbledon title, after a stellar start to the season–including making the final of the Australian Open, losing to her sister Serena Williams in that final.
Williams was the big favourite coming into this match, but the interesting thing was seeing just how well-prepared the 21-year-old Mertens was for her second meeting in a month against the great champion–and the young Belgian really didn’t disappoint.
Mertens has already achieved a lot in a short space of time. She’s taken good players to the limit on a grass court, but has delivered greater success on the hard court by winning her first WTA title in Hobart and she also made the final of the Istanbul Cup, which is played on outdoor clay. I think Mertens’ game can actually get better on a grass court. She can shoot through the court with her forehand and her backhand has improved a lot in comparison to when I first saw her play in the Juniors.
Mertens is 5ft 11in and really finds her marks on the court with her first serve. If she starts striking the serve consistently with a stable following shot to back it up, there is no reason why she can’t achieve great things on the grass in the years to come. And I also think another key factor in whether she does progress and move on to be a great grass courter is whether she anticipates the right balls to move forward on in the transition from baseline to the net. That’s where you see the great players like Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova excel on the grass, because they know when the short ball is coming from their opponents, so they take advantage.
Furthermore, Mertens is now gaining experience. She’s playing top players, at the top events, on the biggest courts and those are invaluable lessons for the Belgian, who seems to have the right state of mind to deal with the fast-pace of the exposed tennis world that she finds herself in.
Belgium hasn’t had a Grand Slam singles winner since 2011, but if Mertens takes the positives from these experiences, there is no reason why she can’t make a real name for herself in the years to come.