David Goffin hoping to rise to Belgian expectations – in Basel and Davis Cup

David Goffin is preparing for prospect of the crowning achievement of his career so far: the opportunity to win Belgium’s first Davis Cup

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis in Basel
david goffin
David Goffin first broke into the top 50 in 2012 Photo: Marianne Bevis

A year ago, give a day or four, a young, quietly-spoken 23-year-old had just completed one of the most emotional matches of his career. David Goffin had lost, but it was still a significant fresh step in what had been a big year for the Belgian.

It was Centre Court at the Swiss Indoors, and he had just played against a personal hero, Roger Federer, in the Swiss star’s home town in his first ATP500 final.

The crowd loved what they saw, and warmed to the nimble, imaginative tennis that had seen Goffin beat bigger and better-known young stars such as Milos Raonic. Their standing ovation moved him almost to tears, but he managed a smile when he talked of Federer: “His serve is just perfect: You cannot read where it is going, it’s not easy to return, so that’s why it was a nightmare for me today.”

Goffin was, though, just short of breaking the top 20, and his progress has continued through 2015. He has arrived in Basel this year as the No8 seed, ranked No17 in the world, and facing the prospect of a repeat match with Federer in the quarter-finals.

He said with a smile after his second-round win here: “I prefer to play Roger in the final, but this year it may be in the quarter-final.”

He recalled why last year, right here, was so special: “I had a tough first six months, didn’t play so well, and then after Miami and on the clay I started to play really well. It was a year of confirmation. It was tough. But this year in Basel I think I improved a lot, mentally and physically, so I think I’m in better shape

“Of course I played Roger, and I was little bit down, really tired, a little nervous. It’s always tough to play Roger in front of his fans, but maybe here I have more energy in the tournament. I hope it will be different!”

The promise of the understated Goffin had been 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.

After a first-round loss at Wimbledon last year, though, he went on a 42-2 run to the Basel final, winning two ATP titles and four Challengers. He finally claimed, not surprisingly, the ATP’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.

So to 2015: some decent runs in Grand Slams, a first Masters quarter-final in Rome, and two runners-up trophies in Gstaad and ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and sandwiched in between it all have been three Davis Cup ties, with wins for Goffin in all four singles matches.

For while Goffin’s immediate priority will be trying to impress again in Basel, one month further down the road lies the prospect of the crowning achievement of his career so far: the opportunity to win Belgium’s first Davis Cup—against Great Britain.

And if the Britons have been waiting a long time to reclaim the famous team championship—the last victory was by Fred Perry’s 1936 squad—then Belgium has been waiting an eternity.

Goffin’s small homeland was among the first nations to join GB and the United States at the very start of the 20th century, and reached the final in 1904. They lost to GB—and have not reached a final since.

Now Belgium’s second chance has presented itself with almost unexpected haste, for while it is a country that has enjoyed super-stars in women’s tennis in the shape of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, Goffin has rather crept up on them. But now, Belgium expects.

Goffin explained: “First of all, people are expecting a lot of results from me because I’m the only one playing Masters 1000s and tournaments like here. We have Steve Darcis who is playing really well in Davis Cup, so we have two very good singles players.

“In Belgium it’s huge to be in the final, and after Justine and Kim it’s just great to have another great event in Belgium—so they are expecting so many results. We have nothing to lose. We have to beat Murray—maybe in singles and doubles!—but I hope it will be a really good weekend for us. We can just give everything and have no regrets.”

The good news, from Belgium’s perspective, is that the team will have the vast majority of the crowd behind them in Ghent, and have chosen to play on a surface that suits Goffin and challenges Murray: clay.

The Belgian team will also begin training together on clay soon after the Paris Masters, while Murray is committed to the World Tour Finals on indoor hard courts before travelling to Ghent. He will, though, announce his schedule in due course, knowing that Belgium—with both Goffin and a recovered Darcis—will be primed and ready.

If there is a fly in the ointment for Goffin, it is that he lost his only previous match to Murray—in that Wimbledon Round 1 defeat that heralded Goffin’s breakthrough season last year.

For now, Goffin is relishing Basel and Federer—though the Swiss has yet to play his second match. The Belgian, indeed, was the first man through to the quarters after beating two tough opponents: First the No27 ranked Andreas Seppi in three, and then tonight, No40, Adrian Mannarino in a handy 6-4, 6-3.

He looked in sprightly, eager shape, timing the ball beautifully, on both occasions.

Also in the top half, No4 seed Kevin Anderson did not drop a point on first serve in beating Borna Coric, 6-3, 6-2, in one hour. He next plays Donald Young—the two have shared the honours in their last two matches—and in a quarter packed by Americans, John Isner is set to take on Jack Sock, who beat another compatriot, lucky loser Denis Kudla, 6-4, 6-2 in 55 minutes.

In the bottom half, No7 seed Marin Cilic, who won in Moscow last week, hit 14 aces on his way to beating local favourite Marco Chiudinelli, 6-3, 7-6(3). Cilic next plays Teymuraz Gabashvili, who beat Leonardo Mayer 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.

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