Australian Open: David Goffin outlasts Reilly Opelka in five-set thriller

David Goffin faced Reilly Opelka in the battle of the established tennis star versus the rising young teenager. After two hours and 56 minutes, Goffin emerged victorious but not without a hard fight. He advanced to the second round of the 2017 Australian Open behind a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 victory.

While it was the Belgian who won, Opelka still had a very strong showing. As he continues to rise, this match was proof that he is the real deal, and more than just another tall American with a big serve. He showed agility and athleticism that make him look nothing like John Isner, whom he is so often compared to, on the court.

Goffin dominates in service games

Living up to his mantra as a big server, Opelka opened the match with a huge ace out wide. The second point also went his way as the American displayed a rocket forehand winner down the line. Goffin was able to take the third point in the game, but the final two went the other way, on none other than a pair of aces.

An easy hold at love for the eleventh seed got him on the board and tied the opening set at one-all. The following game also went his way as Opelka double-faulted to gift a pair of break points at 15-40. Taking the match’s first break on a forehand error from the American, Goffin reached his first lead of the tournament, 2-1. That lead quickly grew to 3-1 after the Belgian held at 15. To that point, Opelka had taken just one point in his return games.

Opelka nearly lost serve again when Goffin scaled back from 15-40 to deuce, but a combination of a perfectly-executed serve-and-volley and a rocket serve to the body bailed the 19-year-old out. Nevertheless, the world number eleven served out the next game without a blemish, and after three service games, he had lost just one point.

David Goffin plays a forehand in his match against Reilly Opelka in the first round of the 2017 Australian Open. Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images AsiaPac

Up a break, Goffin needed just two more holds to come out with a one set lead. Although Opelka held serve for the rest of the set, he could not return well enough to get the break back. Goffin won the set 6-4 in 32 minutes.

Opelka strikes back

Similar to the first set, Opelka came out firing—taking with him a perfect first game. The American youngster even took the first two points on Goffin’s serve, which gave him six straight points won. Goffin took the following points, but a forehand into the net after that put a pair of break points in his opponent’s court; both of those points ended with errors by Opelka to send the game to deuce. A third break point came the world number 208’s way, but an unreturned serve into the net botched that one too. Finally, the eleventh seed held serve with the help of his opponent hitting consecutive shots long to knot the score up at one-apiece.

At deuce in the next game, Opelka drilled a forehand long to get another taste of being on the ropes. Lucky for him, Goffin couldn’t convert the break, but he wasn’t out of the woods just yet. To hold, the 19-year-old had to hit a beautiful backhand volley and a vicious forehand winner from well inside the baseline. Goffin held in the fourth game without a challenge, and that brought the score to 2-2.

Over the course of the next seven games, the two competitors traded holds to bring the score to 5-4 in favor of Opelka. Then, the American broke serve at love to even the set score at 1-1.

Goffin races through the third set

It didn’t take long for Goffin to see break point chances in the third set. At 15-30, Opelka missed the corner on a slicing backhand. The next point ended with the youngster pushing the ball into the net and Goffin starting the set off with a break. The 26-year-old followed the break with a hold at love. With the train off the rails, the American continued to struggle as his opponent broke his serve by rattling off four straight points in response to a 30-0 lead.

With two breaks and a lead that would quickly grow to 4-0, Goffin looked poised for an easy set victory as long as he held serve. That is almost exactly how it went. It took just 22 minutes for the Belgian to take the third set, 6-2.

Opelka forces fifth set

After sneaking the second set away, Opelka looked to be out of tricks. However, he held strong—despite committing nearly four times as many unforced errors as his opponent in the set. Goffin had a chance to break in the seventh game, but Opelka refused to be broken. After nine games, neither player had broken serve as the 19-year-old held a 5-4 lead.

Reilly Opelka plays a forehand in his match against David Goffin in the first round of the 2017 Australian Open. Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images AsiaPac

In the tenth game, Opelka saw a set point and wasted no time in hitting a forehand long. Three points later, he hit a bullet of a forehand return right back at Goffin to get another chance to force a fifth set. On the next point, Goffin’s play wavered, and he slapped a backhand into the net to lose the set, 4-6.

Goffin finishes strong

The deciding set began without as much as a whiff of a break point in the first five games. Then, Goffin had to serve through seven deuces and two break points en route to a hold that would level the score at 3-3.

After the thrill that came in the sixth game, order was restored. Opelka held with ease—giving him a 4-3 lead. He followed that by jumping out to a 0-30 lead in his next return game. That lead, however, was erased briskly. Goffin began hitting the ball with more depth, thus keeping his opponent away from the net, and that paced him to a three-point streak to lead, 40-30. The Belgian ended up holding with only one deuce, and the set was tied up again.

The set and match wouldn’t be for very long, though. Goffin exploded for a break at love to put the victory on his racket. Serving for the match, the 26-year-old ended it on a ten-point run. He took the set 6-4.

With a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 victory, Goffin will advance to the second round of the Australian Open where he will meet Radek Štěpánek.