The Belgian No. 7 seed, who defeated Nadal in his opening match last Monday, put together a confident display in the semi-finals to claim a first career victory over Federer in seven meetings, with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 triumph.
The reward for his history-making efforts is a place in the final at the O2 Arena, where he awaits either Grigor Dimitrov or Jack Sock.
A moment @David__Goffin will never forget…
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) November 18, 2017
Goffin improved to a tour-leading 22-5 in decisive sets this season and is one win away from claiming the biggest title of his career.
“It’s always tough when you start to play against Roger. For the first time I played my best tennis, and I played always a little bit more relaxed after the first set. I started to feel the ball really well for the first time, and continued to serve and played my best tennis today,” said the 26-year-old, who entered the match with a 0-6 losing record against Federer.
In a final four line-up that includes three first-time semi-finalists, Federer, a six-time champion at the tournament was the obvious favourite. But Goffin had other thoughts in mind and managed to pull off one of the least expected upsets of the season.
Federer entered the contest having won 14 of the previous 16 sets against the Belgian, including the last eight.
The Swiss raced to a 5-1 lead and claimed the opening set in 33 minutes, perhaps implying this was going to be a routine win for the No. 2 seed. But Goffin got the break he needed in the second, and served out the set at love to draw level.
The Belgain then drew first blood in the decider, putting away an overhead for a 2-1 lead.
Goffin dug deep to stave off Federer in the next game, saving a break point to consolidate the break for 3-1.
The 26-year-old stood his ground and maintained his advantage, rarely getting troubled on his own serve and pressuring Federer with some great returns.
Serving for the match at 5-4, an ice-cold Goffin started the game with back-to-back aces and moments later he wrapped up a memorable victory.
“It was good there was a screen on the changeover,” explained Goffin. “I was more relaxed so I didn’t think about the first point or the game I have to play.
“I was watching the highlights of the previous game. I was a little bit more relaxed. As soon as the chair umpire said, Time, I was ready with the ball. I didn’t have time to think about what I have to do. I served an ace. When you start the game with an ace, it’s always better.”
Against Nadal, Goffin had struck 14 aces, and in the Federer match, the Belgian slammed down seven aces and saved 9 of 11 break points he faced.
Federer was asked what he thought Goffin did differently this time to finally get the win against him.
“He played better. That was a good plan,” Federer replied sarcastically.
“He struggled for the first set and a bit anyways. So I just think he was able to raise his game. Maybe I helped him doing it, maybe not. But, look, I just think the better returner won over the better server today.
“It’s a bit disappointing for me because it’s indoors, it’s a court I like to play on. But I had my chances and missed them. When he had them, he was very committed. I think that was the difference today.”
Federer knows Goffin well off the court and they are regular practice partners. The 36-year-old says he’s seen Goffin perform so well during training and knew he had this kind of level in him.
Can Goffin go all the way and lift the trophy?
“Of course. Otherwise he wouldn’t be in the finals. I hope he didn’t just beat me for fun and then to roll over in the finals,” said Federer.
“Clearly I believe he’s got a chance. Again, totally different match. It’s really difficult to back it up after you beat someone like Rafa. We saw it in the next match (in Goffin’s defeat to Dimitrov). Somebody like me, it’s the same situation. It’s just a different match, a different atmosphere. But he’s crushed me too many times in practice not to do it also once in a match situation.
“No, look, I’m very happy for him. He’s a great guy. I like him a lot. I think today he played so nice that he deserves to be in the finals. That’s what I told him at the net, as well. I hope he can play a good finals tomorrow.”
After defeating Nadal earlier in the week, Goffin was crushed 6-0, 6-2 by Dimitrov in the following match. That experience might help him though this time around when he comes out for the final following his big success over Federer.
“I don’t know. Yeah, I will try to use this experience. It was not easy to play after Rafa. But tomorrow it’s a final, so it is something different. There will be a lot of emotion. It is a final,” said Goffin.
“If I play Grigor or Jack, it doesn’t matter. A final is a final. You have to go for it, to go for the trophy. I will try to do like today, to be really aggressive and try to win the match.
“But, yeah, try to relax, to do the same as yesterday, to prepare my body like always. I hope to be ready and to play a good match.”
What is behind Dimitrov’s transformation? And how big of a threat is Sock?
In the video above, Sport360‘s Reem Abulleil and Spanish tennis journalist Marta Mateo sit down to preview the semi-finals at the O2 Arena in London.
Who do you think will make the final?
Here are three burning questions ahead of Saturday’s semis…
HAS FEDERER WON THIS ALREADY?
Looking at the four semi-finalists, Federer is a six-time ATP Finals champion and has made the last-four 14 times in 15 appearances, while the other three are all first-time semi-finalists at the tournament.
It’s the first time since Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Gilles Simon made the semis in 2008 that the tournament has witnessed three first-time semi-finalists all at once.
Federer is a combined 15-0 against the other three players still standing at the O2 Arena and considering his experience at the tournament, his indoor hard-court prowess, and the way he’s been playing this week, it’s hard looking past him for the title on Sunday.
A possible rematch with Sock in the final for Federer could be tricky simply because they had just faced off earlier in the week and the American is actually playing some great tennis and can make some adjustments from the tight two-set loss he suffered to Federer.
Dimitrov is in great form and they’re the only two players to go undefeated through the round robin stage this week.
But he’s never beaten Federer in any of their six previous meetings and the Swiss can do everything Dimitrov does, but slightly better. Getting past Sock will not be easy either from the Bulgarian but still, Dimitrov has lost just two games in each of his last two matches and looks like a man on a mission. There’s always a first time for everything, right?
HOW BIG OF A THREAT IS SOCK?
The simple answer is: very big! The American snuck into the field at the last minute, winning his first Masters 1000 crown in Paris just days before the tournament and he’s been playing some impressive tennis since.
Making his ATP Finals debut, Sock pushed Federer in two tight sets in his opener before defeating Marin Cilic in a third-set tiebreak and defeating No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev.
Sock thought he would be on holiday this week but instead, he surprised himself and everyone else by making that run at the Paris Masters and making it to London. With big weapons that can trouble anyone on this surface, the American has shown what he’s capable of already, and he’ll be a tough nut to crack for a high-flying Dimitrov, who trails Sock 1-3 head-to-head (Sock won their last three meetings).
CAN DIMITROV KEEP THIS UP?
The Bulgarian is 18-5 since the start of Cincinnati (which he won) and it seems he’s ending the year the same way he started it – by playing incredible tennis. Dimitrov hasn’t just been playing differently, his entire demeanour has changed. He’s been great in press conferences, and he says he feels like he “belongs” at this level.
His game is up there right now and it’s going to be a matter of if he can keep calm and maintain his nerveless form he’s displayed so far this tournament.
A final between him and Federer would be epic.