If you watched the Davis Cup final between France and Belgium, you have to feel for David Goffin. The diminutive Belgian did everything he could to bring the trophy home to his country, for what would have been the first time. He won all his singles rubbers. Those victories came against quality opponents too. Lucas Pouille and Jo Wilfred Tsonga. In truth, the only player to beat David Goffin in the past three weeks is Grigor Dimitrov. The Bulgarian did it twice at the recently concluded World Tour Finals. Apart from those losses, Goffin has been in remarkable form for the past three weeks. In that period of time he has defeated Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Roger Federer, Lucas Pouille and Jo Wilfred Tsonga, in that order and yet he came away titless in both tournaments. Such is the cruel nature of tennis.
Let’s look at the elements that conspired to deny Goffin another big title he was on the verge of winning – The Davis Cup.
Where’s my Number 2?
One of the keys to winning the Davis Cup is having a solid team of world-class players you can field in any of the singles rubbers. David Goffin had the unfortunate luck of being paired with Steve Darcis – a Belgian player who has made a living for himself as a journeyman on the professional circuit. On the other hand, France had Jo Wilfred Tsonga and Lucas Pouille to call on. Both players have been ranked as high as the top 20, with Tsonga holding strong in the top ten for many years in his career. While David Goffin won both his singles and reverse singles against both players, Steve Darcis lost both of his matches. How important is the depth of the team to winning the Davis Cup? Consider this. Roger Federer waited for many years until he had a solid team and an accomplished number 2 in Stanislas Wawrinka before making his first real push for the title since becoming a grand slam champion. That push was made in 2015 and Switzerland won. Their opponents in the final? France.
A stroke of Coaching genius
Yannick Noah is an eccentric player. Okay… we are understating the fact. Yannick Noah is an eccentric man, period. However, he was one heck of a tennis player. Just ask any French tennis player today. They have all grown up in the shadow of Yannick Noah, the last French man to win a grand slam title. Oh, and it was on home soil at Roland Garros. A place where French men have notoriously crumbled to the pressure. It turns out he is one hell of a strategist as well. To deduce so quickly that Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert would make such an excellent doubles team from their training session, and work up the courage to pair them together in what would turn out to be a crucial doubles match, was downright scary. Yes, Darcis lost both of his matches, but Goffin won both of his. This doubles match and this crucial tactical change were what won France the Davis Cup – their first in 16 years. Yannick Noah continues to be France’s tennis talisman.
Where do Goffin and Belgium go from here?
This has been a bittersweet year for David Goffin. He’s put himself in position to win some of the biggest titles in the sport and he’s fallen just short. However, it should be seen as a year of progress. He has put himself in position after all. Goffin’s new aggressive style of play should serve him well in 2018. He has shown a level of attacking, defending and transition play we never knew he was capable of. He’s also more than held his own against some of the game’s most offensive-minded players. Could Goffin be an X-factor for 2018? Certainly. I hope he takes the final step and clinches a few big ones next year. It’ll be good for him and good for tennis.
As for Belgium, I think it is time they started grooming the next generation of David Goffins if they want to win the Davis Cup. His strong year should – theoretically – inspire young Belgian’s to take up tennis and those already in the system to take their careers a bit more seriously. Who knows… in a few years they just might have their world-class Davis Cup team.