Roger Federer survives spirited David Goffin to reach Basel semis
Roger Federer beats David Goffin to set up a semi-final clash with Jack Sock at the Swiss Indoors in Basel
A tennis player knows he’s doing well when he garners praise not just from one of the sport’s all-time greats but also from his own hero.
But that is just the place where David Goffin finds himself. The 24-year-old Belgian admired Roger Federer as the Swiss sailed his way to title after title and stood atop the rankings for year after year.
Despite their decade age difference, Goffin got his first chance to play his idol in his very first Grand Slam, as a Lucky Loser at Roland Garros in 2012, and made an immediate impression on the then world No3. For the 21-year-old made it to the fourth round, and won the opening set before Federer advanced to the quarters in four.
Goffin’s progress was held up, come 2013, after breaking his wrist and missing the latter half of the season. But by the time Federer encountered the Belgian again, Goffin had surged to 28 in the rankings, won two ATP titles, four consecutive Challengers, and was on his way to a 44-4 run between July and the end of the year. Unsurprisingly he would go on to with the ATP’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.
No wonder Federer was impressed when he met him in last year’s Basel final. The Belgian did not perform as he would have hoped—he admitted this week that he was both nervous and tired. But Federer invited him to train with him in Dubai come the off season.
And if that was not compliment enough, he spoke glowingly of Goffin’s talents as the draw funnelled them towards one another for the first time since that final.
“I think it’s going to be a tough match, I think he’s a great player—I said that from the first time I played him in Paris when he had his great run there. He’s got the footwork, the power, the tennis IQ, if you like, and it makes him tough to play. He can return very well, too. And I know, of course it’s going to be tough again tomorrow.”
So yes indeed: the quietly-spoken Goffin had cause to hope that he could provide a sterner test in Basel this year.
“This year I think I improved a lot, mentally and physically, so I think I’m in better shape than last year… maybe in the quarter-final, I will have more energy.”
The trouble was, while Goffin was undoubtedly proving his worth during 2015—a career-high No17, a career-high number of match-wins, 33, two final runs, a first Masters quarter-final, and a first Davis Cup final next month—Federer had grown no easier to master, even with 34 years in his body and four children at home.
Thus far, the world No3 had five titles, plus two Masters finals and two Grand Slam finals on his 2015 resume, 55 match-wins, and that was without taking into account his 58 wins in Basel and a crowd who would brook no challenge to his nine-straight-finals dominance. Just ask Philipp Kohlschreiber, who saw the Swiss faithful at their Mexican-waving best when he and Federer reached the climax of their second-round match.
It started very much like the Kohlschreiber match, too: Federer got off to a blistering start, laying his cards on the table early with a couple of serve-and-volley plays. He was blistering, too, on return, and made an audacious drop-shot pick-up to put a winner onto the baseline for the break, 4-2.
Goffin, though, was finding his rhythm quickly, having played his two previous matches on the very different Court 2. He is a nimble, lightweight player and really caught Federer on the back foot in the next game, forcing a couple of Swiss errors and two chances to break. Federer held, and turned the attack back on the Belgian with two SABR plays in a row. He even did it a third time to draw an error for deuce, but Goffin showed great focus to hold.
Federer served out the set, 6-3, and looked set for a quick finish. He was certainly playing fast and aggressively, but Goffin lifted his level again to play some delightful rallies, mixing things up, coming to the net, and earning his reward with a break in the fourth game.
But this see-sawing set saw a break each before Goffin held off another break point to hold for 5-2. Federer looked non-plussed: He expected some good tennis but perhaps not as testing as this was proving to be. The Belgian served it out, 6-3, with a fine passing shot and an ace, helped not a little by the Federer’s first serve going walkabout—down to 36 percent for the set.
But now Goffin really tasted the weight of the Swiss support, as the crowd cheered and stomped and waved. Just as the night before, it injected Federer with extra venom, and he broke in the second game when a Goffin ball missed the line by a millimetre.
Federer was now playing every shot in the book and all of them were bearing fruit: a huge lasso forehand, smashes, serve and volleys, and a couple of remarkable defensive gets to break again. He closed things out, rather later than anticipated, with a three-ace game, 6-1.
The hour was indeed late, approaching midnight, after four three-set matches in a row. The result is that Federer will find himself back on court fewer than 18 hours later to conclude Saturday’s semi-finals against another young talent, 23-year-old Jack Sock.
The two have played each other just once before, on Sock’s return to the tour from a four-month break this year at Indian Wells, and Federer won with relative ease.
But Sock is a different, and better, player than then, ranked 29 instead of 45, has won his first title, and beaten the No6 seed John Isner this week. It will certainly be a test of Federer’s physical shape and powers of recovery.