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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, November 17, 2017

 
David Goffin

David Goffin reeled off 12 of the final 14 games sweeping Dominic Thiem, 6-4, 6-1, to roll into the World Tour Finals semifinals against Roger Federer.

Photo credit: @ATP World Tour

LONDON—Extreme experiences marked David Goffin’s Nitto ATP Finals week.

The seventh seed soared knocking out world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in what he called the best win of his career on Monday night only to crash and burn suffering his worst loss of the season to Grigor Dimitrov on Wednesday.

Watch: Sock Stops Zverev

Creative baseline balance helped Goffin make history today as he reeled off 12 of the final 14 games sweeping an erratic Dominic Thiem, 6-4, 6-1, to roll into the Nitto ATP Finals final four.




The good news for Goffin: He made history as the first Belgian to reach the semifinals in the 48-year-history of the tournament.

The bad news for the lithe Belgian: He faces Roger Federer for a spot in Sunday’s final.

The 26-year-old Goffin’s winning percentage against Federer rivals Sisyphus’ record against the rock.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion is 6-0 lifetime against Goffin, including a 6-1, 6-2 thrashing in the Basel semifinals last month.

"I've never found a key to beat Roger," Goffin said of his boyhood hero. "Honestly, I don't know what to do tomorrow. But I'm going to try something, something different, something that I've never done in the past. Yeah, I will try to do my best to play a better match than in Basel, for sure."

This third clash of the season between good buddies and practice partners began with Thiem forcing a cluster of forehand errors to break at love for 2-0. The two-time Roland Garros semifinalist won eight of nine points stretching his lead to 3-0.

Goffin, who had won six of his prior nine meetings with Thiem, was  impressed but unfazed by his friend’s fast start.

“I was a little bit surprised how well he started the match,” Goffin said. “He was moving well. He used his slice a little bit. He changed the pace. He was good. He started to play well.

“But I knew that I found solution in the past. I knew with my return I can be really aggressive from my return. I knew it was the key to come back.”

The rest of the match was rush hour with Goffin directing the traffic.

The 26-year-old Goffin raced through 17 of 18 points, including 12 straight points, breaking at love for 2-3 then scoring his second straight break for 4-3.

“As soon as I came back at 3-All with a good service game, I knew that he was struggling a little bit with his groundstrokes,” Goffin said. “He was hitting too hard maybe a little bit. He lost his timing in his backhands. He started to think about how to hit the ball.

“I have a small idea how it is when it's like that. Yeah, I knew that any second I had to be really solid and don't miss, to finish the match.”

Thiem is a supremely talented player, but he’s not nearly as astute a tactician indoors as his opponent.

Rather than trying to pull back a bit and give himself more margin when his massive strikes were missing, Thiem resorted to grip-and-rip tennis—a particularly puzzling tactic given Goffin has been playing with black kinesiology tape around his left knee and may not be 100 percent fit.

In a sloppy effort, Thiem served just 43 percent and played impatient tennis trying to strong-arm his way through baseline rallies against one of the game’s most consistently pure ball strikers.

"Today, it was not really close," said Thiem, who posted a 3-7 record following his US Open five-set loss to Juan Martin del Potro. "I was not in a close situation. I was just playing bad. So today had nothing to do with any mental problem. It was just a bad game. It was too easy, the score, to be getting tight or nervous or something."

During one first-set changeover coach G√ľnter Bresnik exchanged glances with his charge from the court-side box and tapped an index finger against his forehand as if imploring Thiem to play smarter rallies.

Meanwhile, Goffin stayed the course.

Thiem narrowly missed a forehand pass down the line that would have given him a break point. Instead it was set point and Goffin closed with a stylish running forehand strike from outside the doubles alley snatching a one-set lead after 31 minutes.

The fourth-seeded Austrian stamped a love hold to start the second set. That was Thiem’s last stand.

Goffin streamed through six straight games—including fighting off four break points holding for 5-1—as Thiem struggled to string positive points together.

Goffin closed a commanding win in one hour, 11-minutes posting his 40th victory of the year on hard courts.

Now the clever baseliner must find a way to solve six-time champion Federer, who is undefeated indoors this season playing in conditions Goffin calls “perfect” for the Grand Slam king.

“Against Roger, on his best surface, it's indoor,” Goffin said. “It's this surface, along with the grass. There is no wind. It's tough to play higher, to find the loop when you play here on this kind of surface. It's not easy. It's perfect for Roger.

“But I will try, like I said, to do my best tomorrow to find some solutions, try to play my game, yeah, be aggressive. If he's aggressive and he hit the ball really hard with his forehand, he's dangerous.”

The winner of the Federer vs. Goffin match will face a World Tour Finals debutant—either Dimitrov or Jack Sock—in Sunday’s 6 p.m. final.

It’s the first time since 2008 three men are into the World Tour Finals semifinals for the first time. Nine years ago, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Gilles Simon reached the final four for the first time.


 

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