By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, April 21, 2017
Winless in 14 prior matches vs. Top 3-ranked opponents, David Goffin toppled world No. 2 Novak Djokovic, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, to reach the Monte Carlo semifinals.
Photo credit: Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters
The sight of four match points dissipating before his eyes and the sounds of an enthralled crowd echoing in his ears didn’t jumble David Goffin’s judgement.
Gliding across the clay, Goffin darted a daring backhand inside the baseline jarring one final error from Novak Djokovic to complete a stirring 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 upset of the second-seeded Serbian that sent him into his first Monte Carlo semifinal.
Watch: Pouille To Play Ramos-Vinolas In Semifinals
Flinging his Wilson racquet aside, Goffin thrust both arms in the career celebrating a career breakthrough.
Winless in 14 prior meetings with Top 3-ranked opponents, a gritty Goffin fought back from 2-4 down in the final set holding his nerve and serve with more vigilance than Djokovic. Goffin raised his record to an ATP-best 23-7.
It was Goffin’s first victory over Djokovic in six matches and sends him into his third career Masters semifinal, following successive final four appearances in Indian Wells and Miami last year.
Contesting his third straight three-setter and 11th three-setter in his last 15 matches, Djokovic denied four match points in the final game. But the two-time champion was ultimately undone by Goffin’s dagger down the line backhand and Djokovic’s pressure-induced penchant for over-playing the drop shot in the final game.
The reigning Roland Garros champion joins world No. 1 Andy Murray, who was upset by Albert Ramos-Vinolas yesterday, and third-seed and 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka, who bowed to Pablo Cuevas, exiting the draw before the semifinals.
The 10th-seeded Goffin could face Rafael Nadal in tomorrow’s semifinals if the nine-time champion dispatches Diego Schwartzman in today’s final quarterfinal.
The slender Belgian is one of the slightest players in the Top 20, but he’s big on precision. Goffin’s game is predicated on immaculate footwork and impeccable timing. He’s at his best straddling the baseline to turn an opponent’s pace against him and changing direction down the line.
Sluggish at the start, Djokovic double faulted to face break point then saw Goffin sting a forehand winner down the line to break in the opening game.
Encountering break point in the ensuing game, Goffin capped a crackling rally wristing a running forehand winner down the line. That brilliant strike helped him back up the break.
Losing the battle of court positioning, Djokovic tried testing Goffin’s forehand hitting his two-handed backhand down the line, but the Belgian did a fine job mixing the shorter-angle forehand to draw Djokovic in with the deeper drive crosscourt.
Serving for the set at 5-2, Goffin drew an error for set point after 31 minutes. Dancing to his left, Goffin spun a classy backhand winner down the line. The signature shot wrapped a ribbon around a pristine set in which Goffin won five of six points played on Djokovic’s second serve and tormented the two-time champion with twisting drives down the line.
It was just the second time in 13 sets Goffin took a set from Djokovic.
Primarily, Goffin played with more purpose and energy. A disengaged Djokovic didn’t produce the emotional fire or baseline firmness in the first set then lost his footing in a jarring fall in the second.
Racing right, Djokovic tripped and tumbled rolling over on his back near the doubles alley in the second game of the second set.
Rising from the court with a wide swath of salmon-colored clay streaking the back of his white shirt, Djokovic looked disheveled and faced double break point danger in the third game. In a tense test that saw Goffin knock his two-hander into the top of th
e tape on a second break point, Djokovic withstood the stress for 2-1.
Energized by the battle, Djokovic stormed out to a triple break point lead then smacked a sweeping forehand breaking at love for 3-1.
Streaks of clay stained his socks and legs after his fall as Djokovic streaked through 10 consecutive points extending to 4-1. Goffin, who had been so proactive throughout the first set, was pushed further back behind the baseline as his level dipped.
Sharper serving helped Djokovic turn tide and put more pressure on Goffin’s service games. Still, the world No. 13 saved two set points dotting the corner of the ad-side serve box holding in the eighth game and forcing Djokovic to serve it out.
Armed with new balls and a new racquet, Djokovic served it out at 30 to even the match after 77 minutes.
The forehand is Goffin’s weaker wing and it failed him to open the final set. Persistently hammering away at the Belgian’s forehand, Djokovic drew a floated error breaking to start the decider.
Poking a running backhand down the line, Goffin held for 2-3. Both men took their games to higher levels in the sixth game. Djokovic flicked a sliding forehand pass down the line erupting in a shout for 40-30, but Goffin hung tough began winning longer rallies and gained a break point. Goffin lined up his signature shot, but laced the backhand down the line into the top of the net.
On a second break point, Goffin was up quickly to a mid-court sitter but flailed an inside-out forehand wide eliciting some groans from fans. Djokovic jammed a stinging serve wide to erase a third break point forcing a sixth deuce. Another twisting wide serve saved a fourth break point. Djokovic withstood a near 12-minute game game finally holding for 4-2 and prompting his father to leap from his front-row seat with a clenched fist.
Even when knocked down, Goffin has the racquet skills to react. Losing his balance, he fell to the seat of his shorts yet still wristed a backhand into play while seated. Improvisation helped Goffin hold—a sweet drop shot winner gave him triple break point in the next game.
Answering with a snazzy drop shot winner of his own to save the first break point, Djokovic was helpless when Goffin, bouncing into the doubles alley, blasted another backhand winner down the line breaking back to level.
A pulsating rally that evolved into one of the best exchanges of the match, ended with Goffin curling a forehand down the line. That shot sparked a critical hold for 5-4 bringing a buzz from engaged fans.
After two and a half hours of play Djokovic, who saved 13 of 17 break points, continued scrapping but increasingly was unsettled by Goffin’s depth.
A Djokovic ace and forehand drive down the line saved two match points in the 12th game. Goffin flattened his best shot—the backhand down the line—into net on his second match point then felt the pressure netting a routine crosscourt backhand on his fourth match point.
Still, he kept stepping in using court positioning as a pressure tool. Djokovic netted an inside-out forehand to face a fifth match point. This time, Goffin converted launching a backhand inside the baseline to spike an error and end a two-hour 37-minute duel with a warm and respectful embrace from the 12-time Grand Slam champion.