(Reuters) – Top seed Aryna Sabalenka claimed her third WTA title of the year after beating her good friend and long-time doubles partner Elise Mertens of Belgium 7-5 6-2 in the final of the season-ending Linz Open in Austria on Sunday.
The hard-hitting Belarusian baseliner, who has also won titles in Ostrava and Qatar this year, broke Mertens early in the first set before the Belgian fought back to level terms.
Mertens broke Sabalenka’s serve again to open up a 5-4 lead and was poised to serve for the set before the top seed forced her way back into the contest behind a flurry of powerful groundstrokes, winning the next three games to take the opener.
Sabalenka carried that momentum into the second set, easing to a 3-0 lead and saving three break points to stave off Mertens’ final challenge.
The Belarusian clinched her eighth career title with an imperious backhand winner, ensuring that she will end the year ranked in the world’s top 10 for the first time.
(Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar)