After a successful first half of the season that’s seen him make multiple semifinals at ATP Masters 1000 level, David Goffin is off to a winning start in Halle, taking out Borna Coric and Sergiy Stakhovsky — but not without facing some bumps along the way. After his win today, the No. 5 seed sat down with the press to talk about his improvements this year, performances on the grass and the challenges of facing Roger Federer in the quarterfinals.
For most players at the Gerry Weber Open, the ATP 500 tournament is a welcome stop on the way to Wimbledon — letting them hone in on their grass skills and preparing for one of the biggest tournaments of the year.
While it’s the same for David Goffin, he also has family ties to the small town in northwest Germany — the brother of the Belgian No. 1, Simon Goffin, works in Halle at the Break-Point Academy, home to Gilles Simon and Andrea Petkovic.
Nonetheless, the focus of the World No. 11 is on the action inside on the lawns rather than anything else.
“Of course my brother is here [in Halle], he’s working here,” Goffin said. “But still for me it’s just like another tournament and I’m here to do my job and to prepare my body, to prepare my game for Wimbledon.”
In Thursday’s encounter, however, the 25-year-old was pushed to the brink by Sergiy Stakhovsky, who employed his variety perfectly to throw the fifth seed off his game. The Ukrainian served well throughout the match and had Goffin on the ropes until he served for the match in the second set. At the moment, the Belgian managed to raise his level while Stakhovsky himself suffered and awkward tumble, twisting his back. From there, the World No. 100 did not win another game, losing the second and retiring at 0-2 in the deciding set.
“It was tough — he was serving well I think until the end of the second set and I was not playing well; I was not that solid,” Goffin said following the 4-6, 7-5, 2-0 match. “I didn’t find the good pace in my ball. I was not comfortable on my feet. That is what I try to find this week and next week to be ready for Wimbledon. [At the end of the second set], I was really aggressive with my backhand and I took the game — of course, at 5-all, the last point of the game, he fell on his back. I think maybe he was a little bit stiff after that in his low back. Maybe I was a little bit lucky, because he managed the match and the court really well from the start but at 5-all I played a good game; I think the match turned my way.”
As Goffin said himself, it hasn’t been the easiest of starts here in Halle, as he’s made it through both two matches against Coric and Stakhovsky by dropping a set. The No. 5 seed believes he has all the tools to play good grass court tennis, but it just takes him a while to get attuned to the surface — much like last year.
“It’s never easy to play against [Stakhovsky] on grass but I’m sure I have all the weapons to beat a guy like this even on grass,” Goffin said. “I just have to find my position on the court, my aggressivity [sic] and trust in my footwork. At s’Hertogenbosch last year, it was a good tournament but it was a tough start too last year — but it’s never easy to start and to feel comfortable for the first match on grass or the second one. I just need some hours and some time on grass to feel better, I think.”
Although his road in Halle has been rocky, the 25-year-old has now made the quarterfinals or better in six of his last seven events, including at Roland Garros where he lost to Dominic Thiem in a hard fought four-set match. Goffin’s slowly continued his climb up the rankings after solidifying his Top 20 ranking last season, edging closer and closer to the Top 10 — falling perfectly in line with his goals of improving his game step by step.
“I had some goals this year and it was of course to stay in the Top 20, but I always have the Top 10 as a target. The thing is I have to think about my game — what I have to do, what I have to improve and what I have to do on the court every day in practice and in the match and not think about the ranking,” Goffin explained regarding his own expectations.
“But, of course, the goal before the season was to win some matches against big players, Top 10 players and I beat some good guys like Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic in the United States. After that it gave me some confidence, so now I have more confidence and I’m ready for the rest of the season to try and break the Top 10.”
In the quarterfinals, Goffin will be facing one of the litmus tests in tennis in form of Roger Federer. Although the Swiss is still some miles away from his very best physically and on court, the 34-year-old remains the favorite in tomorrow’s encounter on Halle’s Centre Court, which is as good as his living room. Still, the World No. 3 was full of praise for Goffin’s development in recent months and expects a tough challenge on Friday.
“It’s nice to see, he’s a great guy, very pleasant guy to be around, he’s got a great charisma on court, plays with passion,” Federer said. “He’s always really fair — he’s one of my favorite players to watch and to play against. For me, it’s only natural that he’s playing his way to the top because I was always really impressed with his possibilities. I played him in Paris when he had his breakthrough run and then one and a half years ago, he came to Dubai in December and I practiced with him intensely and for a longer amount of time. I was really impressed with how hard he practices and how easily he kept up with my pace.
“Today, obviously, he was very lucky against Stakhovsky, who played really well — he managed to get through this somehow, but that also shows that he has the confidence and played and won many matches. That’s when you also win these matches and maybe have the luck on your side. Nonetheless, I think it’ll be a tough match for me tomorrow and it’s a good test to play against the best to see where I’m at with my game.”
As for Goffin, he’ll be trying to upset the player he idolized when he was younger but he’s aware that it’s a tough task, even if Federer isn’t 100 percent yet.
“Roger has won so many titles here and he’s like at home here,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough one but Roger is clearly so good on grass. He’s had some matches last week and he came here with some matches. So, I think it’s going to be a tough one, of course.”
David Goffin and Roger Federer will face each other in the quarterfinals in the second match on Friday after 12 pm local time in Halle