Belgium's Elise Mertens, currently ranked No. 23 in singles and No. 6 in doubles, spoke about the difficult time she experienced during her transition from the ITF Tour to the WTA Tour on Noah Rubin's Behind the Racquet series, where players share their personal and professional stories.
Mertens, who has been as high as No. 12 in singles and No. 2 in doubles, says, "It is not easy taking that big step from ITF to WTA. I was top 10 in juniors and I felt like I was in the dark again, starting over. It was exciting that I can start from scratch but also scared about how much work was ahead.
Even with all the travel with my mom, I think my character is a bit more like my dad. He doesn’t play tennis or know a lot about it but he knows me really well and has helped me mentally get through things. I started playing pro tournaments later than others, around 17.
I went fully pro at 18. It wasn’t easy in the beginning learning about all the new opponents . You begin by losing a lot of matches at first. The feeling of winning my first 10k was an unbelievable feeling. That winning feeling keeps you going, the passion keeps you going.
I used the inspiration from other players in order to raise my level of tennis to theirs. After reaching 500 you get a feel of it, and just want more. It doesn’t always go as fast you want and tennis players are not very patient.
I always think there is someway to improve. The worry was not about me being too lazy but more about fixing my mentality. It took me a while to play against top 100 players, or girls who have won WTA titles, and truly believe I could beat them."
Speaking about her life off the court, Mertens says, "i’m just a simple person. I am an animal lover, with a few dogs and turtles at home. I just enjoy being at home relaxing with my friends and family. During tournaments you have the same routine every day which can get boring.
It is not easy to always stay motivated away from home. People outside of tennis never understand how I can constantly travel all the time. I really do not know any other life. I started playing tennis when I was four years old and started to play under 18 events when I was only 13 years old.
That was when I began to travel full time. I don’t really have that feeling that I’ve missed out on anything. I still managed to have some friends at home that I get to see every once in a while. I love the sport and wouldn’t do anything else.
The toughest part of the tour for me is the travel and not being home as much as I want to be. I just don’t have the time to do usual things like sit on the couch at home, be with my dogs, or see my family or friends.
I was lucky to at least have my mom who used to travel with me a lot to tournaments. People always think being on the road, doing the same thing each day, is exciting. The fans only see the matches, which is the fun part, but there is much more going on off court.
It all becomes a routine. It is important to break the rhythm sometimes. I love what I do and it is my passion, but it is important to mix up the routine. Even if it is as simple as changing how you eat. I go to different restaurants as often as I can or even stay at an apartment so I can cook myself.
Sometimes just need a little bit of that home feeling." The 24 year old Mertens has won 5 singles and 9 doubles titles on the WTA Tour so far. Her biggest win came at the 2019 US Open doubles event which she won with Aryna Sabalenka. She also reached the semi-finals of the 2018 Australian Open singles title.