Two-time losing finalist and world #1 Simona Halep will look to continue her quest for a first French Open and a first Grand Slam when she takes on Elise Mertens, the 16th seed from Belgium. Halep did not have one of her best clay court seasons, but is still rightly amongst the favourites, particularly after a number of her fellow seeds fell to early exits. But Mertens will not want to play a bit part in Halep’s march to triumph. Who will come out on top?
Halep and Mertens have met just once so far in their careers. However, it was a very recent clash, as the two faced off in the second round at the Madrid Open last month. It was a match that will give Halep plenty of confidence ahead of this match as she won through to the third round comfortably 6-3 6-0. Whilst the conditions in Madrid are slightly different, particularly due to the altitude, it will none-the-less be a daunting task facing Mertens.
Path to the fourth round
Halep began her French Open campaign with a hard-fought three set win against the USA’s Alison Riske, who shocked the crowd and the world #1 by taking the first set 6-2. But the Romanian quickly righted the ship, levelling the match 6-1 and dominated the decider to win it by the same score. She that backed that up with a more routine 6-3 6-1 win against another American, Taylor Townsend. Halep then booked her place in the second week by dispatching Germany’s Andrea Petkovic 7-5 6-0.
Mertens was made to work extremely hard for her first win at the French Open this year as Varvara Lepchenko brought the very best out of the Belgian, who eventually won through 6-7 7-6 6-0. The 22-year-old Mertens then downed Britain’s Heather Watson in straight sets 6-3 6-4 to reach the third round at Roland Garros for the second consecutive year. She then defeated Australia’s Daria Gavrilova to reach the fourth round at a Slam for the second time in a row, having made the semifinals in Melbourne.
How do they match up?
Halep is one of the most effective counterpunchers in the game. The Romanian is an excellent mover, comfortable when pushed out wide to her forehand and backhand side and able to use the ball well even at the end of her range. That makes her particularly dangerous on clay, where the slower court surface makes her even harder to hit through. She can also take the upper hand in rallies using her forehand to dominate proceedings.
Mertens is equipped with a deceptively heavy weight of shot, particularly off the backhand wing, which despite not looking as though it is struck with much venom, moves through the court quickly. The Belgian also has a fine first serve, and against Gavrilova made a good 77% of her first deliveries, winning the point 73% of the time. Her defensive skills, however, are not amongst the very best, and against the world’s top ranked player, they could be exposed.
Halep will be the heavy favourite going into this match and rightly so. Barring a slow start against Riske, she has looked in formidable form, and since losing that first set to the American, she has dropped just eleven games in the six sets she has played since. Mertens has the quality to pose Halep some searching questions and this should be a competitive encounter. But not one that the Belgian will win. Halep in straight sets.