Five observations about David Goffin.
Ever find yourself thinking that professional tennis takes itself too seriously? For some clay-court fun and smiles – for the real sense that someone at Roland Garros was being so bold as to actually enjoy themselves on court – you had to watch Goffin going for his colourful, inventive shots against Roger Federer. This was the chaotic day in Paris when the men’s world No 1 found himself two sets down, and the red clay granules were smeared all over the hopes and ambitions of the women’s world No 1. And yet a lucky loser from Belgium – a very youthful 21-year-old who looked as though he had taken a wrong turning on the way to a junior match and somehow ended up on Court Suzanne Lenglen – was holding everyone’s attention.
On the middle Sunday, there was the serious business of Djokovic’s encounter with Italy’s Andreas Seppi, a match which so nearly ended the Serbian’s attempt to become the first man since the 1960s to hold all four slams at the same time. And there was the wretched (for her) affair of Victoria Azarenka’s defeat to Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova, with the top seed saying sarcastically afterwards: ‘How am I going to recover from this? I’m going to kill myself.”
For Goffin, the day brought the wonderful career peak of winning the first set from Federer in their fourth-round match, and though he lost in four, he continued to entertain. Azarenka, this year’s Australian Open champion, may well go on to win Wimbledon, the Olympics or the US Open (perhaps all three) and Djokovic could still win this French Open to achieve the non-calendar Nole Slam. Worse things have happened than their defeat and near-defeat. The middle Sunday of the 2012 French Open is likely to be remembered as the day when the wider tennis public were introduced to David Goffin.
The moment that summed up his tournament? How about when, after winning a glorious point, he bowed to all sides of the stadium? It was a little cheeky, funny, and in keeping with the mood of the match. Goffin enjoyed his afternoon almost as much as the crowd did.
Goffin resembled a competition winner determined to make the most of the opportunity to meet an idol. Goffin once had posters of Federer on his walls, but that did not mean that he was going to give his boyhood hero any cheap points. This was not the first time, or the last time, that Federer played someone who used to idolise him. But has one of Federer’s fans ever made such an impact?
Goffin doesn’t look like a tennis player – there are ball kids at Roland Garros with more chance of being served in the bars of the sixteenth arrondissement. He is under six feet tall. And he is about as skinny as a net post. So he doesn’t have the physical presence of most modern tennis players. That made the story of his tournament all the better. Here was a sign that, among all the biffers and bashers, there is still a place for players like Goffin.
Has there ever been a conclusion to a match quite like it? During a joint television interview, it was clear how much each admired the other. After exchanging compliments, they had a hug, which the crowd loved.
Expect to see more of Goffin, who will become a top-100 player the morning after this tournament. Goffin, who had lost in the final round of qualifying, only played in the main draw because Gael Monfils withdrew. So this breakout party almost never happened. “Goffin could become a great champion,” Federer said. “His eyes and angles impressed me.”