Goffin Eyes Dimitrov Revenge In Season Finale Decider
When David Goffin arrived in a cold, overcast London less than a fortnight ago, he had never beaten Rafael Nadal, nor Roger Federer. He had never previously qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals outright – just a sole appearance as an alternate for the injured Gael Monfils last year, a match in which he salvaged just three games from Novak Djokovic.
Grigor Dimitrov had never qualified for the season finale before. He was more familiar with London in the summer, when intermittent rain made way for blazing bursts of sun on Centre Court at Wimbledon or at Queen’s Club for the Aegon Championships.
Now under the roof of The O2, it is down to the final match of the season in the British capital and these two men stand on the cusp of the biggest title so far of their careers. They have crossed paths once already in this year’s Nitto ATP Finals, in the round-robin stage, where Dimitrov inflicted a brutal 6-0, 6-2 defeat.
He admitted everything he touched turned to gold in that clash. But that result alone doesn’t tell the full story of their respective journeys to reach Sunday’s final.
Goffin’s group-stage results were at opposite ends of the spectrum. Following the elation of becoming the first Belgian man to beat a World No. 1 with his upset of Rafael Nadal in his opening match, he fell swiftly to Dimitrov before rebounding in style to see off No. 4 seed Dominic Thiem in straight sets.
It pitted him in a semi-final with his idol, Roger Federer, a player to which he had lost all six FedEx ATP Head2Head clashes. For an opponent Federer admitted “crushed me too many times in practice not to do it also once in a match situation”, Goffin upped his aggression to pull off the improbable upset.
It made him just the sixth man to beat Federer and Nadal in the same event and the first since Djokovic to do so 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. “Yeah, it is the best win of my career, for sure.”
Dimitrov enters Sunday’s title decider unbeaten having narrowly edged Dominic Thiem before thrashing Goffin and Pablo Carreno Busta for the loss of just two games in each match. He rebounded emphatically after dropping the opening set against Jack Sock to drop just three games in the final two sets, but not before a momentary bout of nerves crept in when he attempted to serve it out. He will finish the year, regardless of Sunday’s result as the new World No. 3.
“The goal was to finish the year top 10. Now I finished 3,” Dimitrov said. “It's wonderful, a wonderful reward. This is what I've been working for… I think it's not only good for me, I think for the whole team. I think that gives us a very good platform to start in the off-season, yeah, have a good start of next year.”
Dimitrov leads his FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Goffin 4-1, including the round-robin clash at this year’s season finale. The Bulgarian took the honours in the pair’s Australian Open quarter-final meeting and on home soil in the Sofia final, however Goffin landed revenge in the quarter-finals of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament indoors in Rotterdam.
“Obviously he's done well this week. I mean, beating Rafa, Roger, those are big wins,” Dimitrov said. “I think his confidence is going to be up there. But I'm not going to focus in on his confidence or his game right now. I'm just focusing on myself, the recovery that I'm going to do today. Of course, it's not going to be the same after I played against him… I think also it is a different stage for both of us.”
Dimitrov said he wished he could “just press replay” after his emphatic triumph over the Belgian in the group stage. Goffin, though, will be sure to press reset. The stage may be the same but on Sunday they play for so much more.