"There is nothing we can do. What's happening in the world is more important than just a sports game. It's a pretty strange feeling"
Thursday 9 April 2020 07:12, UK
Belgium tennis player Elise Mertens opens up to Sky Sports' Raz Mirza about her life in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and she reflects on her US Open doubles success alongside Aryna Sabalenka as well as Kim Clijsters' comeback.
Mertens grew up in Leuven, which is a city east of Brussels, and after months of travelling around the world playing in tournaments, the 24-year-old former Australian Open semi-finalist is back home in isolation following the shutdown of the tennis season.
Nobody quite knows when tennis will resume. Wimbledon, which was due to take place from June 29 to July 12, has been cancelled meaning tournaments could start on July 13, but there is uncertainty around whether or not that will be possible.
In an exclusive interview from her family home, Mertens explains the "strange feeling" she is having to cope with on a daily basis.
"It's pretty strange because nothing like this has happened before, so I'm just trying to do some fitness work to keep me busy," said Mertens. "I have stuck to doing the same fitness work as I used to do. I have a gym at home which helps so I work on my speed, agility, power training and endurance training so I can do everything.
"You don't see a lot of cars on the street here in my hometown. There are a few people walking around but it's pretty quiet. Usually, I look out to a busy street but it's very quiet now. When you listen to the news it's all about one thing, but of course it's a really big deal and hopefully we can find a solution soon.
"It feels pretty strange not playing because it's never happened to me before. I mostly take a minimum break of two weeks before starting over again. There is nothing we can do. What's happening in the world is more important than just a sports game. It's a pretty strange feeling.
"Sometimes when I'm on the tour I say 'I want to go home' but now that I'm here I just want to travel again. No, to be honest it's good being at home, but in a few weeks I might end up changing my mind."
Mertens, the world No 23, has enjoyed singles success with five WTA titles under her belt, including back-to-back victories in Hobart.
She is also adept at doubles where she won the 'Sunshine Double' - Indian Wells and Miami Open - before victory at the US Open propelled her and her doubles partner Aryna Sabalenka to major stardom.
The Belarusian ace has already achieved so much in the game, winning six WTA titles, and Mertens reflected on the chemistry they share on and off the court as well as discussing what the future holds for 21-year-old Sabalenka.
"The US Open women's doubles title was an amazing feeling. Me and Aryna just started playing together so we really didn't expect it. We played together because we wanted to have some fun. Singles is our priority but you can relax when playing doubles," Mertens said.
"[Former partner] Demi Schuurs was focused on playing doubles at the time, but I was playing a lot of singles and it was costing me lot of energy. Her priority was doubles while mine was singles.
"I asked Aryna if she wanted to play doubles. She had never played doubles before but wanted to give it a go. It really worked out well. She would hit those really hard flat balls while I would have to use my hands at the net. That's the combination that we use and it works.
"Aryna is a pretty powerful player. She has grown up a lot in the last two years and she's physically very strong."
Mertens said the decision to move the French Open was "a bit of a surprise" and criticised the The French Tennis Federation (FFT) for not taking into account the amount of travelling and jetlag players will have to cope with.
She also spoke about the shock she felt when hearing the news Wimbledon was to be cancelled.
"Missing out on Wimbledon is another big shock because it's already three months without tennis and that would be four months so we don't know how long it's going to take to restart. We can't do anything about it but hopefully everybody stays at home," said Mertens.
The Belgian is part of the Kim Clijsters Academy (KCA) where she regularly trains alongside her childhood hero. After nearly eight years away, Clijsters, now a mother of three, is back playing on the WTA Tour and Mertens said it was a "surprise" to see her return.
"She is definitely motivated to be back on court," she said. "She still hits the ball very clean and it's always nice to practice with her."
As for her future ambitions, she joked: "They are to win everything. No, I have to be realistic. I love the sport, I love the passion and the emotions involved. It would be nice to win a singles tournament this year."
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