01:35 PM GMT November 18, 2017
David Goffin was perplexed.
After he reached the Nitto ATP Finals semi-finals, the Belgian was asked what he would have to do to beat Roger Federer for the first time in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series. Goffin had been 0-6 against the Swiss, including a 6-1, 6-2 loss in the semi-finals of the Swiss Indoors Basel last month.
“Honestly, I don't know what to do tomorrow,” Goffin said.
The Belgian did some quick thinking. Goffin shocked Federer on Saturday, coming back from a set down to eliminate the second seed and pick up his first win against Federer, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Goffin, who qualified for the season finale for the first time, will play for the biggest title of his career on Sunday. The Belgian has won four ATP World Tour crowns, including an ATP World Tour 500-level title at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2017 last month.
But the 26-year-old had never reached a bigger title match, either at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event, a Grand Slam or the Nitto ATP Finals. On Sunday, Goffin will meet Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, who beat Jack Sock of the United States 4-6, 6-0, 6-3.
“For the first time I played my best tennis, and I played a little bit more relaxed after the first set. I started to feel the ball really well for the first time, and continued to serve and played my best tennis today,” Goffin said.
The Belgian hinted that he might have a preference as to who he faces on the final day of the 2017 season. The seventh seed faced Dimitrov in Group Pete Sampras play and fell 6-0, 6-2.
“If you watched some matches this week you know the answer,” Goffin said, smiling.
The Belgian is 1-4 against Dimitrov in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, but 3-0 against Sock in their past meetings.
Regardless of Sunday's result, though, this has already been the best week of Goffin's career. He started his stay at The O2 by celebrating his biggest win by ranking, a 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-4 upset against World No. 1 Rafael Nadal. Goffin then had a blip, falling to Dimitrov in only 75 minutes. But he rallied on Friday to beat Dominic Thiem in straight sets and qualify for the semi-finals, and Goffin again summoned his best tennis to beat Federer.
Goffin becomes the first player to beat the Top 2 players at the Nitto ATP Finals since 2009, when champion Nikolay Davydenko beat No. 2 Nadal in group play and No. 1 Federer in the semi-finals.
Goffin is the sixth player ever to beat Nadal and Federer in the same tournament and the first since Novak Djokovic at the 2015 Nitto ATP Finals.
“Both are really special. It was the first time against Rafa. Then the semi-final for the first time for me here, and to beat Roger for the first time here in such a big event, big tournament, it was the perfect moment,” Goffin said.
Players To Beat Rafa and Roger At The Same Tournament
|David Goffin||2017 Nitto ATP Finals|
|Novak Djokovic||2015 Nitto ATP Finals|
|Novak Djokovic||2013 Nitto ATP Finals|
|Novak Djokovic||2011 BNP Paribas Open|
|Novak Djokovic||2011 US Open|
|Nikolay Davydenko||2010 Qatar ExxonMobil Open|
|Andy Murray||2010 Rogers Cup|
|Juan Martin del Potro||2009 US Open|
|Nikolay Davydenko||2009 Nitto ATP Finals|
|David Nalbandian||2007 Mutua Madrid Open|
|Novak Djokovic||2007 Coupe Rogers|
|David Nalbandian||2007 Rolex Paris Masters|
Goffin, though, first had to halt Federer's momentum. The six-time Nitto ATP Finals champion had raced through the first set, cutting shoestring volleys for winners and blistering backhands to take the lead after only 33 minutes.
It was the ninth consecutive set Federer had won against Goffin, and the Swiss improved to 15-2 in sets against the Belgian.
But Goffin responded immediately. He held and then broke Federer, seizing his first break point to lead 2-0. Goffin also gradually steadied his game. He had spilled 13 unforced errors in the first set, but in the second, he hit only seven as he evened their semi-final contest by holding to love.
“I started to feel the ball better at the end of the first set, so I wanted to be more aggressive. As soon as I had the chance to go for the shot from the return and from the serve, [that] was the key, to go for the shot,” Goffin said. “It paid off. I started to serve well. My forehand was going much better. I was really aggressive. I came to the net.”
Both of Goffin's earlier wins in London had come in three sets, and he has thrived in close matches all year. He entered Saturday 21-5 in deciding sets.
It was no different against Federer. Goffin broke in the third game and again served out the set, dropping his racquet and staring at his team after clinching his first match point.
Twenty-four hours after saying he had no idea how to beat Federer, Goffin had pulled off one of the best wins of his life and one of the upsets of the 2017 season.
“Yeah, he played better. That was a good plan,” Federer said, smiling. “It's that simple.”