Brad Gilbert reckons Grigor Dimitrov will emerge triumphant again when he takes on David Goffin in the unexpected deciding match of the ATP Finals at the 02 on Sunday.
Dimitrov destroyed Goffin for the loss of just two games in the round-robin stage – but won’t find it as easy the second time around, according to Andy Murray and Andre Agassi’s former coach.
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. It is the best win of my career, for sure. It was not an easy match. Of course, it was not easy. When I started to play against him, I was a little bit nervous. I started to be just solid. But against him it's not enough to be just solid, because it's the perfect pace for him, he can do whatever he wants. David Goffin
Gilbert said to ESPN: “It’s going to be a lot closer than their last meeting but I’m going with Grigor, finishing something like 6-4 7-6. Hopefully it’s a good match but it feels more like a tight two-setter.”
Predictions, though, are particularly tricky. Both finalists came into the unknown at the start of the tournament, neither having qualified by right. So, to compete in the final of it puts their experience on an almost surreal level.
Goffin stunned Roger Federer, favourite to secure a record seventh title, along with the Swiss Masters’ fans and experts 2-6 6-3 6-4 and gushed to the BBC:. “I have no words. I cannot describe how I’m feeling – so much joy, so much happiness.”
Dimitrov battled back to defeat American Jack Sock, another virgin at the year-end event, 4-6 6-0 6-3 in the second semi-final.
Both finalists sized the other up.
Seventh seed Goffin said: “I had a match in the group, it was a tough match. I was not in my match. But it is a final. It will be something different hopefully. There will be another issue for me. I hope to play the tennis I played today. I’ll try to be more aggressive, also go for the shot and go for the trophy
Dimitrov, who leads his Belgian opponent in head-to-heads, said: “It’s another match for me. Obviously he’s done well this week. Beating Rafa, Roger, those are big wins. 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. Of course, it’s not going to be the same after I played against him. It is a different stage for both of us. It’s a wonderful day to play on.”
Federer, who had won all previous six matches against Goffin, broke his opponent early in the opening set of their last-four showdown, He bagged a second break and went on to seal the set.
But the match turned on its head in the second when Goffin sealed an early break. And the Belgian’s serve increasingly troubled his 36-year-old superstar opponent who had won the Australian Open and Wimbledon in an astonishing season.
The Belgian broke Federer in the third game of the third set and the seemingly impossible looked on. Very much on. The Swiss’ challenge subsided, perhaps the fuel running out after a comeback in 2017 following six months out through injury last year.
The Belgium had secured what he described as the best win of his career a few days earlier against world No.1 Rafa Nadal before revealing how the defeat of 19-time Grand Slam winner Federer replaced it at the top of his list of conquests.
He said: “Both (beating Nadal and Federer) 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. It is the best win of my career, for sure.
“It was not an easy match. Of course, it was not easy. When I started to play against him, I was a little bit nervous. I started to be just solid. But against him it’s not enough to be just solid, because it’s the perfect pace for him, he can do whatever he wants.
“Then I wanted to change something because I was nervous. I started to feel the ball better at the end of the first set, so I wanted to be more aggressive. As soon as I had the chance to go for the shot from the return and from the serve also was the key to go for the shot. It paid off. I started to serve well. My forehand was going much better. I was really aggressive. I came to the net. When you see me at the net, it is something good!”
Federer, suffering only his fifth defeat of the year, said: “I know how well he can play in practice. In practice I’ve seen this level before. I wasn’t surprised. He’s crushed me too many times in practice not to do it also once in a match situation.
“Can he maintain the level until the end of the tournament? Yes, of course. course. I hope he didn’t just beat me for fun and then to roll over in the finals. Clearly I believe he’s got a chance. Again.
“I’m very happy for him. He’s a great guy. I like him a lot. I think he played so nice that he deserves to be in the finals. That’s what I told him at the net. I hope he can play a good final.”
Dimitrov had a bumpy ride against American No.1 Sock who had defeated him in their previous three meetings. He seemed to have the opening set under control, leading 3-0. But eighth seed Sock, who sealed his tournament place by winning the recent Paris Masters, charged back to take the lead with the help of his big forehand.
The Bulgarian sailed through the second set to level as Sock’s game deserted him before Dimitrov held his nerve to secure victory after missing out on three match points.
He said: “I started the match exactly the way I wanted it. I think after that break, that breakpoint at 3-0 in the first set, was a little bit of a turning point I felt for him. He stepped in the court, started being a little more aggressive. I let him play his game.
“The second was obviously one-way street. Very good play, as simple as that. In the third, I just had to find those little cracks in his game to break him. I think after that was, again, good finish for me.”
Sock revealed the event has lifted his self-esteem on court.
He said: “To be here, my first appearance here, to make the semis, getting through a pretty tough group I thought, beating some good players. Obviously both groups are very tough. For my first time, to play the three guys that were in our group, to get through, was a big confidence booster for me.”
Briton Jamie Murray and Brazilian Bruno Soares were defeated 7-6 6-2 by title holders Henri Kontinen and John Peers in the semi-finals of the doubles.