A lot had to go right for David Goffin if he was to threaten Novak Djokovic. At just an inch under six feet, he doesn’t necessarily intimidate his opponents. His serve-speed doesn’t rank high enough to give him the first-mover advantage that can help turn matches on grass.
But he covers for his shortcomings with clever changes of pace, court-speed and persistence. On Wednesday, he appeared to maximise these talents for a fleeting while, going up a break in the first set and serving at 4-3, before bearing the full brunt of the Djokovic onslaught to be crushed 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.
“It was not easy,” Goffin said later. “It was high level, high level from the start. I was playing well. I had the break. Then, yeah, he played well. It was tough to stay with him. Everything was a little bit deeper and a little bit better. There were always some rallies, but at the end he was on top of everything. When you miss an opportunity like this in the first set, it’s tough to follow.”
The six games that Djokovic lost were his least ever at Wimbledon -- better than the seven he lost to Yen-Hsun Lu in 2010 -- and he will now take on Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, who defeated Argentine giant-killer Guido Pella 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to make it to his maiden Slam semifinal.
“After I was broken, new balls were taken and it felt better,” revealed Djokovic. “I broke back and the hold to 5-4 was crucial. In set two and three, I was very happy with my level. I am happy that I have played two of my best matches in the fourth round and quarterfinal.”
The turnaround in the first set was swift. After having broken the defending champion in the seventh game, Goffin lost his serve from being 30-0 up. A double fault and an unforced error brought the Serb right back and the decision by the umpire to award a point to Djokovic instead of a replay following a contentious line call threw the Belgian off.
He would save the break point with a fine volley but couldn’t do much when Djokovic knocked off one of his own on the second after a long rally. From there on, the four-time champion reeled off eight successive games, sucking the Centre Court of all its energy and any lingering suspense that was left in the arena.
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Towards the end of the second set, Goffin did have multiple looks at the Djokovic serve. Ahead 4-0, Djokovic fell behind 15-30, only to recover and drill three precise serves to the Goffin backhand, severely restricting the space to do damage.
In the second game of the third set, Goffin finally got on board by holding to 1-1, but hope quickly dissipated when he surrendered his serve again, courtesy a double fault on break point. With Djokovic at 3-1, Goffin earned two breakpoints; the second came after two failed attempts at a smash before he nailed the third. He egged the crowd on and it responded. However, it did nothing to reduce the air of inevitability that had gripped the stadium.
“Even if I had game points, he was serving better,” Goffin said. “You have to play the perfect point to win against him. Then he's returning at your feet all the time. You know how the grass is, just in front of the line…It's so tough and he puts you under pressure all the time. He was everywhere.”
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