Swiss Indoors: David Goffin continues run to dampen Raonic’s London hopes
David Goffin beats Milos Raonic in three sets to reach the semi-finals of the Swiss Indoors in Basel
Two of the 23-year-olds in the Basel draw this year, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic, have become two of the brightest stars among the new generation, and both are still in the running to become the youngest man to reach the ATP World Tour Finals since Juan Martin del Potro.
Both though faced uphill tasks to reach the semi-finals and boost their chances.
Dimitrov, with the slimmer hope of making a surge from his current No11 in the Race, took on the same man who beat him at this stage last year, Roger Federer.
But if on paper the position of No9 Raonic looked the easier, that was to ignore the achievements of a third 23-year-old to reach the quarter-finals, David Goffin.
The promise of the slight, nimble Goffin was clear when he broke the top 50 during 2012, the year he made a run through qualifying to the fourth round of Roland Garros—and won the first set against Federer before losing in four. But his progress took a knock after he required surgery to a broken wrist in 2013.
However since a first-round loss to Murray at Wimbledon this year, Goffin has put together a 41-2 run, winning two ATP titles and four Challengers. Indeed his only two losses in that time came to Dimitrov at the US Open and another imposing 23-year-old, Jerzy Janowicz, in Winston-Salem.
The Kitzbuehel title marked Goffin’s first main-tour victory and made him the fifth champion born in the 90s. And after winning the Mons Challenger this month, he broke into the top 30 for the first time.
The contrast, though, between Goffin and Raonic, despite being born just 20 days apart, is striking. Goffin is just 5ft 11in and 68kg, Raonic 6ft 5in and 98kg. While Goffin has, indeed, won two ATP titles, Raonic has six, reached the semis at Wimbledon and the Masters in Rome and Cincinnati—and last year the final of his home Masters in Montreal. He has also spent much of this year ranked No6 or 7, tapering off after illness during the Asian swing.
And although Goffin is quick, flexible, with huge variety in his game, the big Canadian has not stood still. He has worked hard on his movement, has begun to attack the net more often: in short, he is still improving.
The match took on the feel of an unstoppable force against an immovable object, but the light-footed Belgian managed the first break to serve for the first set, 5-4. In a heart-stopping moment, he fell over—he broke his wrist last year after a fall—but got up to face break point. To add still more drama, the lights in St Jakobshalle went down and the two players returned to the locker room.
Goffin afterwards described the difficulty of that moment: “It was a weird moment with the lights, you have to save a break point and go back to the locker room… I just wanted to go back to the court and play the point. I saved one but then lost two!”
Indeed the set went to a tie-break, and the superior serving of the big Canadian—who would serve his 1,000th ace of the year during the match—carried him to the set, 7-6(3).
But Goffin began to light up the court, regaining his composure, serving well, and passing Raonic down both lines with flamboyant ease. He broke and took the set, 6-3, and it was more of the same in the third. Although his serving level dropped—though he would drop only four out of 48 points on his first serve— his all-court game more than compensated.
Goffin broke to lead 5-3 and almost broke again, but would satisfy himself a 6-4 victory—the first top-10 win of his career.
It took the latest run of the quietly-spoken Belgian to 15, though that still does not match his post-Wimbledon run of 25—and it meant a lot: “It’s my biggest wins so far—though I beat Tsonga in Metz—but it’s a big win for me. I played well, I was really serving today, and even though I lost the first set with a terrible service game, I stayed calm, broke him in the second and third sets. I’m happy the way I played.
What has brought about this surge of form, then?
“My training a little bit because I changed my coach before the French Open, and we worked a lot then, and [before] the grass season, and I was playing better and better in practice, and then after that better in matches. Against Murray it was a tough match, but I was being better. So I took the decision to play some Challengers to get some confidence, and then match after match I was playing better and the confidence was there… Now I’m feeling better.”
He smiled, and no wonder. He moves on to his first ATP 500 semi-final and the pleasure of either Rafael Nadal or teenage star Borna Coric. He had played with the former yesterday and practised with the latter today—and would watch their match later on.
Goffin, quiet and composed though he is, seems more than confident that he can do still more, and is rightly nominated in the Comeback Player of the Year category of the 2014 ATP Awards. And after missing the end of last season because of his wrist, he can only gain points and rankings until the start of 2015—where he looks assured of a seeding for the Australian Open.
But while these are good times for Goffin, they are tough times for Raonic. After falling ill to a virus in the Far East, he has struggled to assure his place at the World Tour Finals, and his position looks even more insecure with wins by Murray and David Ferrer in Valencia: Raonic slips to 10th place.
But his fight continues: “In Paris, I will fight to the last point, whenever that last point might be—and hopefully it’s later than earlier. There’s nothing else I can do.”