ATP Finals: Goffin shocks Federer to set up title showdown with Dimitrov

Croak

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Authors: Rio Sports

Roger Federer leaves his magnificent season one match earlier than he had anticipated but it is a measure of the heights he reached in 2017 that he was not crushed by losing to David Goffin here on Saturday. The Swiss missed out on a meeting in Sunday’s final of the ATP World Tour finals with his long-time doppelganger, Grigor Dimitrov, who in the evening session beat the rising young American Jack Sock by the eccentric margin of 4-6, 6-0, 6-3.

Goffin, who had taken just two sets off Federer in six previous meetings, earlier beat Federer 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 45 minutes, becoming the first player in eight years to prevail against the two top-ranked players in the world at this tournament. Nikolay Davydenko did it to Federer and Nadal in 2009, going on to beat Juan Martín del Potro in the final.

The second semi-final was a feast of rich shots and lots of soaring and dipping tennis. Sock, the last qualifier after winning in Bercy last weekend, said: “There’s a reason he’s been playing this consistently all year. That’s the reason he’s in the final.”

Having seen off the injured world No1, Rafael Nadal, in his first match, Goffin did not lack for form but his self-belief wavered. He said after beating Dominic Thiem to reach the weekend: “I’ve never found a key to beat Roger. Honestly, I don’t know what to do. But I’m going to try something – something different, something that I’ve never done in the past.” He was true to his word. As he said courtside: “I was really aggressive, hit some great forehands.” Smiling as if he had just discovered there really is a Santa Claus, he added: “Words can’t describe how I’m feeling. There is much joy, much happiness.”

With a seasonal glow, Goffin advances to Sunday’s final, the first Belgian to do so in the tournament’s 48 years. Dimitrov is the first Bulgarian.

It is hard to repel the worrying feeling, meanwhile, that tennis is leaving Andy Murray behind. As the ailing Scot watched Saturday’s semi-finals from his home in Surrey, he might have admitted privately that his Christmas will be less joyous than last year’s, although the recent addition of a baby daughter to his young family will surely ease his angst.

The 2016 champion has much to ponder: a hip that is healing only slowly and a future without Ivan Lendl, who late on Friday left him for a second time. Nobody saw that one coming.

Murray, who has not played a serious match since Wimbledon, and his team have been strangely introspective lately but it is known he will take the rest of his crew to Miami soon for two weeks of midwinter training then fly to Australia to acclimatise for his comeback in Brisbane, before the Australian Open in Melbourne.

A year after he had finally ascended to No1 in the world – and stood on the floor of the O2 Arena drinking in the applause of the crowd for beating Novak Djokovic in the final of this tournament – his world has inexorably fractured. He has tumbled to No16 in the rankings but, if he can take any comfort from Federer’s season, it might be that the Swiss was the same ranking 12 months ago – and went on to win the Australian Open.

As Federer said later of his absent rivals – Murray, Nadal, Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic: “Coming back is always a challenge for the body. You’ve got to be extremely patient yet positive. Of course I expect greatness from them when they return – at some stage, not maybe from the very beginning. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it worked out for them as well, like it worked out for me.”

A lot of people would. Federer came back from seven months out through knee surgery to win two slams. Saturday’s loss broke a run of 13 wins, and was only his fifth of the season.

Federer was 3-1 up after 16 minutes. Although he is a great front-runner, two of his four losses this year were from a set up: against world No116 Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai at the start of the year, and against Tommy Haas, who was ranked 302 when he beat him on grass in Stuttgart.

No upset was apparent after 22 minutes, when he broke Goffin for 4-1 with a sublime backhand down the line. He held to love for 5-1 with a low chip from heaven and a cool smash at the net that left his 26-year-old opponent shrinking in his presence. It was man and boy, as they say. Three aces among 13 clean winners won Federer the first set in just over half an hour. What could possibly go wrong?

Goffin, in no mood to roll over, broke for 3-0 and held for 4-1. Federer briefly rediscovered his fluency but could not stop Goffin serving out to love to level at a set apiece.

Goffin, playing Tigerish tennis, saved a break point with a crisp volley at the start of the third, then remained focused all the way to the line. They embraced at the net, not far from where Federer’s final forehand had ended up, and the famous deed was a small but significant part of tennis history.

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