David beats Goliath
Prior to this week in London, only five men had beaten Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the same tournament: Novak Djokovic, Nikolay Davydenko, David Nalbandian, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro.
Now, David Goffin has added his name to that storied list after stunning the Swiss 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to book his place in Sunday’s final.
The result is one of the most surprising seen at the ATP’s season finale, not least because Goffin trailed 0-6 in the pair’s head-to-head, and had readily admitted before the match that he “doesn’t know how” to beat Federer.
And when the Wimbledon champion stormed through the first set in 33 minutes, it seemed the answer would remain a mystery to Goffin. Breaking in the first and fifth games and dropping just five points behind his own serve, Federer looked in imperious form, overwhelming his opponent with some typically aggressive play.
At that point, Goffin had little choice other than to throw caution to the wind, and in doing so would finally find the key to beating his childhood idol.
The Belgian halted Federer’s momentum early in the second set, breaking at the first time of asking with a sublime crosscourt forehand winner. Armed with a renewed sense of purpose, Goffin’s shots now had added weight behind them - his groundstrokes would rise from 69mph to 73mph between the first and third sets - and the extra velocity was now pulling Federer around the court.
The Swiss had also seen his forehand go awry, and was under increasing duress on serve, with Goffin growing ever more effective in attacking Federer's second deliveries.
Federer did engineer a break point at 5-2 down, but Goffin was able to keep his opponent at bay before holding to love to force a deciding set.
There, the world No.8 just continued to hit harder and flatter, drawing an error from the Federer backhand to break at 1-1 before consolidating after fending off a break point with a composed volley winner.
Now out in front, one might have expected Goffin to start feeling the pressure. But an out of sorts Federer was simply unable to make any real inroads on his opponent’s serve, with the Belgian chalking up two love holds before nervelessly serving out to 15 to seal his passage to the final.
“I have no words. I cannot describe how I'm feeling...so much joy, so much happiness,” said an overwhelmed Goffin after the match.
“For the first time I played my best tennis, and I played 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.
“To beat Roger for the first time here in such a big event, big tournament, it was the perfect moment."
Goffin will now play for the biggest title of his career, while for Federer it brings an end to a fairytale comeback season which yielded seven titles, including the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
“He played better. That was a good plan,” Federer said. “It’s that simple.”
“It’s been an amazing year for me. I’ve been so happy that I was playing at this level from the beginning till basically the end, till today.
“So it's been great.”
Dimitrov knocks off Sock
Grigor Dimitrov rallied from a set down to beat Jack Sock 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 and become the first debutant to reach the final of the ATP Finals in a decade.
Arguably the form player of the week, the Bulgarian had won his previous two matches for the loss of just four games, but was a visibly tighter presence on court against Sock and saw an early 3-0 lead slip away.
Having lost his three previous encounters with Sock, Dimitrov was understandably wary of the American’s much-vaunted forehand, and with good reason. The American broke once again at 4-4 before serving out the opener, exhibiting his exquisite volleys along the way.
But Dimitrov was unleashed rather than inhibited by losing the first set, and raced through a bagel set as Sock’s hot streak completely disintegrated.
The opening stages of the third set were finely balanced, with Dimitrov’s athleticism matched by Sock’s weight of shot. By now, these two entertainers were combining to produce some thrilling points, but the crucial break went the way of the Bulgarian, who successfully went after the Sock serve at 4-3.
The final game was a thrilling affair, featured three unconverted match points and two break points for Sock, but Dimitrov got over the line at the fourth opportunity to book his place in Sunday’s showpiece.
In addition, that victory means the 26-year-old will end the year as world No.3, an achievement he was understandably delighted with.
“The goal was to finish the year Top 10. Now I finished 3,” Dimitrov said.
“It's wonderful, a wonderful reward. This is what I've been working for...It's not only good for me, I think for the whole team. I think that gives us a very good platform to start in the off-season, to have a good start of next year.”
Dimitrov will now face Goffin in the final, and will surely start as the favourite having beaten the Belgian 6-0, 6-2 during the round robin stage.