In a potentially thrilling clash, defending champion Elina Svitolina takes on fellow young gun Elise Mertens for a place in the Montreal semifinals. It has been a disappointing season for Svitolina, who has failed to improve on many of her results from last season, particularly at the Slams having exited in the third round in Paris and in the first round at Wimbledon. Mertens, meanwhile, made her name in Melbourne and has impressed since. But who will come out on top?
Svitolina and Mertens have met twice so far in their careers with both matches having been contested within the last two years. The first came in the final in Istanbul in the run up to the French Open. Svitolina won that one, dominating Mertens 6-2 6-4 to lift the title. But this January, Mertens had her revenge when the two met in the Australian Open quarterfinals. Mertens delivered surely the best performance of her career to win 6-4 6-0 and reach her first Grand Slam semifinal.
Path to the quarterfinals
Svitolina, seeded fifth, began her tournament in the round of 32 after a bye. That saw her take on the in-form Mihaela Buzarnescu, who lifted the title in San Jose last week. It was an engaging contest, until Buzarnescu had the misfortune to roll her ankle badly, resulting in ligament damage which forced her withdrawal. It was a heart-breaking blow for a player who has provided one of the feel good stories this season. Svitolina then dispatched Johanna Konta 6-3 6-4 to reach the last eight.
Mertens, the fourteenth seed, opened her Toronto campaign against home hope Eugenie Bouchard. The Canadian has, however, been in a seemingly perpetual decline since reaching the Wimbledon final in 2014 and was dismissed 6-2 6-4. Mertens then overcame Zhang Shuai 6-2 6-7 6-0. That set up a clash with Aryna Sabalenka, who was playing her second match of the day. The Belarusian began well, at one point holding match points, but Mertens fought back to win 2-6 7-6 6-0.
How do they match up?
Svitolina and Mertens have much in common when it comes to their approach to the game. Both prefer to hug the baseline rather than moving forward and both have solid, but surprisingly powerful groundstrokes. Svitolina generally tends to favour her forehand as an offensive weapon and she excels at using it to hit aggressively into safe targets. Her backhand is less dangerous to opponents, but she can still strike a fair number of winners with it and rarely misses from that wing.
Perhaps the most easily discerned difference between Svitolina and Mertens is that the Belgian hits her forehand with more spin. She is also a better server than Svitolina, but the advantage is slight enough that it could change depending on how well they are playing. Indeed, the matchup itself is sufficiently close that it seems likely to be decided by which is having the better day, rather than any notable superiority or weakness on the part of one or other of them.
This is perhaps the hardest of the quarterfinals to call. Although Mertens won their last match with ease, Svitolina was equally comfortable in their first match. Where the Ukrainian perhaps has the slight advantage is that she is the more comfortable of the two on the fast hard courts found in Montreal and Toronto. In a matchup potentially as close as this one that should give the defending champion the decisive edge. Svitolina in three.