On Saturday Mertens will play her first career WTA Premier final, against top seed Simona Halep.
Halep won in straight sets but needed two tie-breaks - 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (8-6) - to edge past Germany's Julia Goerges, despite racing to a 4-0 lead in the first set. She was running Halep ragged, before the Romanian held her serve in the fourth game to stay alive.
"I wanted to lift this trophy badly but I couldn't and Elise deserves it very much", said Halep.
She added: "She played incredible".
"I'm happy because I didn't give up".
Mertens had started nervously, lost her opening service game, and the first set in just 32 minutes.
Trailing 4-1, Kerber bounced back in the opener to level the score at 4-4 before losing serve again in game ten with a forehand error to hand the set to the Belgian.
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Simona fended off a break point in game two and she won four straight points on the return to open a 2-1 lead.
"It's a big moment for me, getting that victory", said a jubilant Mertens, 23, afterwards. While she has achieved a lot as a doubles player, it is certainly great to see her do the same as on the singles circuit too.
Hitting with pace and depth, the Ukrainian grabbed another break in game nine to close the set and set a decided where she had the advantage on her side.
Both players converted five break points in a riveting contest, but it was Kerber who kept her composure in the decisive tiebreak to improve her head-to-head record to 8-1 against Strycova. "Now I change that, and it makes me happier, because I showed myself that I'm able to do that".
Mertens, who beat three-time Grand Slam victor Angelique Kerber in the semi-finals on Friday, even defied back spasms in the middle of the second set to script her sensational title win.
Kerber's Australian Open campaign last month ended in one of the worst defeats of her career when she won only two games against Danielle Collins, but she has put her disappointment behind her by stepping up her game in Doha. A long backhand by Halep on match point handed the set and the title to Mertens.
She had already beaten Angelique Kerber and Kiki Bertens, a year after she was knocked out of the tournament in the first round.