Before yesterday’s semifinals, I gave David Goffin absolutely zero chance of winning his semifinal against Roger Federer. A quick glance across the internet, and I see I was not the only one. Yes, I am trying to find some comfort in knowing I am not the only worst predictor on the planet. At least I got the Dimitrov prediction right, so 50% isn’t all that bad. But let’s take a closer look at our ATP Nitto World Tour Finals finalists and see how they wrestled victory away from their formidable opponents.
Was Grigor Dimitrov’s semifinal win over Jack Sock a surprise? Not entirely. I picked him to win this match. However, a part of me has been waiting for the classic Dimitrov let down. His dominating performance in this tournament has been too good… maybe too good to be true. It isn’t that Dimitrov doesn’t have the tools to dominate the world’s best players. He has a complete game that should strike fear into the hearts of any opponent. However, Dimitrov has made a name for himself as a streaky talent. The kind that can catch fire at any moment and just as quickly, have his flame extinguished.
When Dimitrov allowed Jack Sock back into the first set of their semifinal match, and ultimately lost it 4 – 6, I thought the letdown was upon us. It wasn’t. Dimitrov showed us something he hasn’t shown much of throughout his career until now. He found a way to problem solve and figure out Jack Sock. He found a way to turn the match in his favor and rise to the challenge. The American had thrown down the gauntlet and Dimitrov responded with considerable aplomb. The second set was a resounding bagel served Dimitrov style and Jack had no choice but to receive it. The American – always the Nebraskan brawler – gathered himself up in the third set, but Dimitrov had hit those ridiculous heights we saw in his group stage matches. His running forehand just might be the best in today’s game. It isn’t quite as potent as the great Pete Sampras’s was, but it is lethal enough to make his opponents pay for not going to that wing with something special. Jack Sock found this out especially in the third set, as the running forehand was intrinsic to a brilliant rally that set up the break of serve for Dimitrov.
Is Grigor Dimitrov ready for the biggest win of his career? Judging by his play this week, I’d say he is. Then again, he just might be setting us up for the biggest let down of all. One can only dream.
Now here is a surprise. Show of hands if you thought that by the end of the week, David Goffin would have achieved the rare feat of defeating Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the same tournament. In tennis and in sports in general, anything is a possibility. Yet this was one possibility that seemed extremely unlikely at the start of the tournament. If defeating Nadal was a combination of inspired play from Goffin and Nadal’s injury, then defeating Federer was all down to Goffin also showing us something he’s never quite shown before. Aggressiveness. I’ve always felt like Goffin just didn’t have the weapons to hurt Federer. This wasn’t a function of Goffin’s play – he is one of the best ball strikers in the game today. It was just that his pace of shot off the ground had never troubled one of the most feared attacking players in the history of the game. That lack of aggressiveness seemed to be more of a physical limitation rather than a mindset thing. Boy was I wrong. It appears Goffin – much like Andy Murray early in his career – has always had an extra gear he didn’t fully embrace.
Yesterday, instead of waiting for Federer’s level to drop, Goffin decided to take the fate of this matchup into his own hands. He surprised the tennis world, Roger Federer and himself by going on the attack. He relied on his incredible timing, ball control, and ball striking ability to hold up against the uncharacteristic high-risk play he was adopting and it paid off in sets 2 and 3. Federer never really regrouped and the match was over before he could figure out a way to attack Goffin’s attacking play – a play never seen before. David Goffin had effectively launched a zero-day attack on the greatest player of all time and in so doing, scored the greatest win of his career.
Grigor Dimitrov, Jack Sock, and David Goffin represent a group of players who have been trying to establish themselves at the highest level of tennis for a few years now. Roger Federer was the oldest of the semifinalists, with at least a ten year differential between him and every other competitor that qualified from the group stage. While a win for Federer would have been another piece of history made, it would have also kept this generation of players in check until at least next year. It is good for tennis to see new faces vie for the biggest title in tennis after the grand slams, and the last major tournament before the 2018 season. A lot of noise has been made about Generation NEXT, and their time will come. I believe Generation NOW has finally arrived and they have done so in style. Who will win the final today? Why don’t you predict this time?