David Goffin impressed on debut at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships in Abu Dhabi after he dispatched Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets 7-6(2), 6-4 to set up a semifinal clash with top seed Andy Murray on Friday.
Heading into this first match of the 2017 season just one place separated the two players in the Emirates ATP Rankings, with Goffin ranked at 11 and Tsonga at 12. Their head to head was just as close, with the Frenchman leading 3-2, but Goffin won their last encounter at the 2015 Rome Masters and won their only previous encounter on a hard court back in 2014 in the quarterfinals in Metz.
Blistering start from the Belgian
Goffin made a very fast start, with both players striking the ball cleanly from the off, Tsonga won the first point of the match but the Belgian took the next four, closing with an unreturnable fiercely struck forehand cross court. The world number 11 took this form into his first service game, holding to love and looking in fine form early on. The Frenchman managed to get involved in the contest in the following game after holding serve but found no joy on the return as he quickly trailed 3-1.
The world number 12 found himself under pressure once more in the fifth game, having to recover from 0-30 down to 30-30 after he hit a scintillating forehand down the line winner on the run. That exceptional shotmaking was not enough to save him as another unforced error followed by relentless pressure from the Belgian secured Goffin a double break. Tsonga had a prime opportunity to pull one of the breaks back in the following game after the world number 11 netted a forehand to bring up break point, but the former Australian Open runner-up missed the second serve return long and wide. After that miss, he unleashed a powerful trademark forehand to create a second chance and got his reward after an untimely double fault from the Belgian relinquished his serve and reduced his lead.
Fight back from the Frenchman
This sparked a complete momentum shift as Tsonga started to take the ball on early a lot more frequently, going for his shots and sealing a second successive break of serve on his third break point opportunity after striking an unreturnable powerful forehand. Another comprehensive hold of serve from the Frenchman guided him to his fourth game in a row as he moved in front for the first time in the match at 5-4. Having been frozen out for a significant period of time the Belgian responded on serve in the 10th game, closing it out with his first ace of the match to level the score at 5-5 after 37 minutes of play. Comprehensive follow-up service holds from both players took them into a first set tie-break as darkness descended in Abu Dhabi.
Goffin dominates the tie-break
Goffin made the perfect start, securing a mini break after the first point, catching the outside edge of the line with an overhead smash. A forehand down the line winner, followed by a volley putaway made it 3-0, but the Frenchman made his mark, crushing a forehand winner of his own as he held both points behind his serve. The Belgian resisted the pressure from the world number 12 to hold both points on his serve and forced the Frenchman to break down in the next rally first, netting a forehand to give his opponent four set points. Goffin only needed one opportunity, ripping a return of serve cross court with a forehand, drawing Tsonga into an error to secure the set 7-6(2).
Strong serving from both in set number two
Both players started the second strongly on serve and it was Goffin who faced the first real signs of pressure in the fifth game at 30-30. The Belgian was able to survive the scare and remain in front and had half a chance to secure a decisive break in the eighth game as he led 15-30 on Tsonga’s serve. The world number 12 sprung into action, taking the next three points to hold and level the score at 4-4. A fifth ace in the match for Goffin sealed another hold of serve and took the world number 11 one game away from a place in Friday’s semifinals.
Serving to stay in the match, Tsonga took the opening point but then made a careless mistake as he took on an overhead smash straight from the sky and put it into the net and quickly found himself two match points down after producing a couple more cheap errors. The Frenchman saved the first and then the second with an ace, but two more unforced errors sealed his fate as Goffin wrapped up a straight sets victory 7-6(2), 6-4. The world number 11 advances to a semifinal clash with world number one Murray on Friday, while Tsonga will play in a fifth place play-off match against Tomas Berdych after the Czech was defeated by defending champion Rafael Nadal 6-0, 6-4.
What the players had to say
After the match Tsonga looked very fatigued but was happy to be back in the Middle East. “Today was not easy, David played good tennis at the start and finished well”, he said. “I’m pretty happy with my level for my first match and I’m hoping to raise my level tomorrow.”
Naturally, Goffin was delighted with his first match here on debut at the event, the Belgian said: "I played really well this evening, a nice welcome for my first match here in Abu Dhabi. I’m very happy with my level and hope I can continue it tomorrow. It’s the perfect tournament to start the season and I’m looking forward to the match tomorrow.”
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