Rivalries Of 2017: Dimitrov vs. Goffin
ATP World Tour Season In Review: Best Rivalries
What makes a rivalry — is it the mix of playing styles or personalities, the intensity of each battle or something different? In 2017, two perennial grafters with great potential clashed on five occasions, improving both tactically and mentally for year-end Top 10 finishes in the Emirates ATP Rankings. While Grigor Dimitrov beat David Goffin in four of their five FedEx ATP Head2Head series meetings this year, the statistic as read is too simplistic to be dismissed as one-sided — a non-rivalry. For while Dimitrov and Goffin are never going to relentlessly overpower an opponent, the fluency of their games and the risks they take under pressure in their pursuit of victory made them leading players of the 2017 season.
When Dimitrov reached the 2014 Wimbledon semi-finals, to first break into the Top 10, the achievement was heralded. Here was a former junior World No. 1, finally making his mark, a disruptor to the established order. But the potential threat failed to materialise and he dropped outside of the Top 40. In 2017 and under the guidance of Dani Vallverdu, Dimitrov got off to a 16-1 start — the best record of any player. “There is no hiding from the Australian sun, and when the new season begins you see who has been working and who hasn’t when you come out of the garage,” said Dimitrov, who certainly justified his off-season statement.
In the space of four weeks, Dimitrov and Goffin — both 26 years of age — faced off three times. First there was the Australian Open quarter-finals, a nerve-wracking affair that Dimitrov won 6-3, 6-2, 6-4; then, two weeks later, the Garanti Koza Sofia Open final, when, under enormous pressure on home soil, the Bulgarian collapsed to his knees and burst into tears after a 7-5, 6-4 win. Goffin exacted revenge five days later 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 in the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament quarter-finals, playing throughout with great aggression.
Goffin, at 150lbs and one of the lightest players on the ATP World Tour, harking back to the weights of Michael Chang, Lleyton Hewitt and Gilles Simon in their playing primes, had finished 2016 at a year-end No. 11. So the calibre of the Belgian, the consistent threat he posed, was a known factor. But this year, upon overcoming an ankle injury in a freak accident at Roland Garros, his performances were laced with aggressive intent, a willingness to step into the court — particularly on his backhand wing – and hit his serve with greater power. The new approach, backed by his coach Thierry Van Cleemput, resulted in back-to-back ATP World Tour titles at the Shenzhen Open and his first 500-level event at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2017 in Tokyo. And, just like Dimitrov, who had won his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title at the Western & Southern Open in August, the reward for a career-best season was a much-deserved spot at the elite eight-player Nitto ATP Finals in London.
By the time of their fourth meeting of 2017, at the Nitto ATP Finals, Dimitrov had recorded a debut round-robin win against Dominic Thiem 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 at The O2, while Goffin had opened his season finale account with a first victory over World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, albeit hindered by a knee injury, 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-4. A semi-final berth at the Nitto ATP Finals was up for grabs and both players were full of confidence, yet Dimitrov blitzed Goffin in an eagerly-anticipated clash, 6-0, 6-2 in 74 minutes. “It’s a special win for me,” said Dimitrov, who won the first 10 games. “You get a few days out of the year that whatever you touch turns to gold, and that was the first set. My movement was great, I was reading the game really well and believing in my shots.”
It was a signal of intent for Dimitrov, who afterwards admitted, “I am not here just to participate”. Goffin soon recovered with victories over Dominic Thiem, then Roger Federer in the semi-finals. He had been 0-6 against the Swiss superstar, including a 6-1, 6-2 loss in the semi-finals of the Swiss Indoors Basel three weeks earlier and prior to the semi-final, Goffin had admitted, “Honestly, I don't know what to do tomorrow." The Belgian did some quick thinking and shocked Federer 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to become only the sixth player to beat Nadal and Federer at the same tournament. What next? Dimitrov, four days on from that thumping loss.
The size of the prize and the opportunity to hold aloft the Nitto ATP Finals trophy guaranteed nerves aplenty in the final, but also terrific drama in front of a capacity crowd of 18,000 fans in east London. Dimitrov and Goffin were at their athletic and resilient best, yet once Dimitrov saved four break points in the first game of the deciding set, Goffin was visibly tired, but continued to fight. Dimitrov ultimately claimed the biggest title of his career 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 to follow in the footsteps of Spain's Alex Corretja, who won the title on his debut in 1998. The fifth and final match of their 2017 series was perhaps their finest, showing the desire and mental fortitude, potential and threat both World No. 3 Dimitrov and No. 7-ranked Goffin possess, and, importantly, can inflict at the top of the sport next season.
View FedEx ATP Head2Head (Dimitrov leads 5-1)
Dimitrov vs. Goffin: 2017 Meetings
|Australian Open||Hard||QF||Dimitrov||6-3, 6-2, 6-4
|Garanti Koza Sofia Open||Indoor Hard||F||Dimitrov||7-5, 6-4
|ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament||Indoor Hard||QF||Goffin||6-4, 1-6, 6-3
|Nitto ATP Finals||Indoor Hard||RR||Dimitrov||6-0, 6-2
|Nitto ATP Finals||Indoor Hard||F||Dimitrov||7-5, 4-6, 6-3