Aryna Sabalenka and Elise Mertens will face off in Sunday’s title match of the Upper Austria Ladies Linz following two hard-fought victories for the top two seeds in the semi-finals of the WTA International Event.

Sabalenka battled past former doubles World No. 1 Barbora Krejcikova from the Czech Republic, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. The World No. 11 of Belarus fired 14 aces and won 72 per cent of her first-service points to prevail after two hours and three minutes.

“I am really happy with this win today. It wasn’t an easy match for me, as she played really well. I didn’t play my best, but I tried my best,” Sabalenka commented on her performance during her virtual post-match press conference.

“Before the tournament, I didn’t serve that well, but I have worked a lot on it recently. Every day it took about 20 to 30 minutes and I am happy with it this week.”

By reaching the championship match in Linz, Sabalenka secured a first year-end Top 10 finish. The 22-year-old Minsk native is now seeking her third trophy of 2020 following her triumphs in Doha and Ostrava, which would tie her with Simona Halep for most title wins this season.

Mertens fights back

Earlier on Saturday, Mertens rallied from a set down to overcome 2018 runner-up Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, 2-6, 6-1, 7-5. The No. 2 seed from Belgium converted six of her seven break-point chances to prevail after two hours and five minutes.

“It was a tough one, especially in the first set. She served unbelievably well,” Mertens said. "I think I managed to do better in the second and third sets, throwing in some loop and slice. She hits pretty hard, so I felt like if I gave her rhythm. She was controlling the points, so I tried mixing things up and that worked today."

The World No. 21 has played her best tennis of the season after the re-start of the tour in August, reaching the Prague Open title match and the Western & Southern Open semi-finals before securing a second straight US Open quarterfinal appearance in Flushing Meadows. 

"I try to play well at every tournament, so I can't say if I'm playing better now as opposed to before lockdown. I'm just trying to do my thing on court,” Mertens said.

"I'm very happy to be in the finals, especially since it's the last tournament of the year, giving me an extra push to do well. I managed to get some hours on the court, but I'm happy with my performance overall, that I could turn around these tough matches. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

Dream final

Sabalenka and Mertens, two long-time doubles partners, will meet for the sixth time with the Belarusian leading 3-2 in their head-to-head records. Sabalenka also won the last encounter between the two at the WTA Premier event in Dubai earlier this season.

“At the beginning of this week, I said that it would be cool to play Elise in the final here,” Sabalenka said of the upcoming last match of the WTA Tour season. “All of our previous matches were at great level and a big fight. I am looking forward to this final.”

Sunday’s action will start at 12:30 pm local time with the doubles championship match. Top seeded Czechs Lucie Hradecka and Katerina Siniakova will take on No. 4 seeds Arantxa Rus from the Netherlands and Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia. The singles final is scheduled to start not before 3 pm.