June 1, 2012
David Goffin looks like a boy in a sport increasingly populated by older men. But he is in elite, much more experienced company now in the Round of 16 of the French Open.
Goffin, a slender and reserved 21-year-old Belgian with pale blue eyes, actually lost in the final round of the qualifying tournament. But he was given a spot in the main draw as a “lucky loser” and has advanced further than any men’s lucky loser in this tournament in 34 years.
“He’s like a young Andre Agassi; he takes the ball so early; he’s like a little genius,” said Wojtek Fibak, the former top-10 player and longtime coach, after watching Goffin thwart his latest elder, the Polish veteran Lukasz Kubot, 7-6, 7-5, 6-1.
Goffin, ranked just 109th for the moment, has a long road ahead if he wants to belong in the same company as champions like Agassi. But he will be in such company on Sunday.
Playing in his first Grand Slam tournament, Goffin will face Roger Federer, who has won more of them than any man and who was Goffin’s idol when he was growing up hitting balls against the garage door until dinner time.
“I had his photos and posters in my room,” said Goffin, who nonetheless plays with a two-handed backhand instead of a one-hander like Federer. “Since I was very young, I watched him play on television. For me, for a long time, he plays near-perfect tennis, with perfect technique. And I also like him in human terms.”
Federer, the winner of 16 major singles titles, is seeded third this year and defeated Nicolas Mahut of France, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5, producing plenty of flashy tennis but also dropping yet another set to a player he might have expected to handle in straight sets.
Informed that Goffin considered him his idol, Federer, who will turn 31 in August, looked slightly sheepish. “Not the first time it happens,” Federer said. “It’s strange; I tell you that. It’s weird. It’s strange. It’s everything you can imagine. I’m happy to hear it, though.”
It was a day of awkward questions for Federer. His longtime agent, Tony Godsick, has declined to renew his contract with International Management Group. The company, one of the most powerful in sport and entertainment, later confirmed that it no longer represented Federer.
It remains unclear precisely what this means for Federer, who left IMG once before, in 2003, after his former agent Bill Ryan departed the company, but resumed working with it in 2005.
What is increasingly clear is that Federer will have to play outstanding tennis to have a crack at a second French Open title. His principal rivals, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, are in sparkling form. Nadal, the six-time champion who is in the opposite half of the draw, has lost just nine games in his first two matches and will play Saturday against the Argentine qualifier Eduardo Schwank.
Djokovic, the No. 1 seed who could meet Federer in the semifinals, has yet to drop a set. Djokovic advanced to a fourth-round match with Andreas Seppi of Italy by beating sunset as well as the French qualifier Nicolas Devilder, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, as darkness fell.
At a slender 5 feet 11 inches, Goffin looks small compared to most of the bigger, older men in the main draw. He is not a big server, but he reads the game beautifully and can produce power and surprise off the ground from all sorts of angles and positions. Off the court, he is soft-spoken and looked much more nervous in the interview room than against Kubot.
“I’m timid,” Goffin said, “but not on the court, at least, I try not to be.”
Kubot, a net rusher, grew so weary of seeing his deep volleys and approach shots get transformed into gold by Goffin’s deft hands that he watched one winner fly by late in the third set. He stared long and hard at Goffin, and then spat in his direction. The spittle came nowhere near the young Belgian, but Kubot was given a code violation by the chair umpire and was booed long and hard by the primarily Belgian crowd.
Belgians, particularly French-speaking Belgians like Goffin, often view the French Open as the closest they can get to their own Grand Slam tournament. They have had plenty to cheer in recent years with Justine Henin winning the women’s title four times. But Henin has retired, here only as a television commentator, and the Belgians packed into Court 7 to watch their new prospect.
Goffin, who developed his game in the same Belgian training center in Mons where Henin once trained, has defeated deeply experienced players in grueling duels in every round here and will break into the top 100 after the tournament. He began with a five-set upset of the 33-year-old Radek Stepanek, the 23rd seed. Next, he prevailed in five more sets in a two-day match with Arnaud Clément, the 34-year-old Frenchman playing in his final French Open. After beating the 30-year-old Kubot, here comes the 30-year-old Federer.
Goffin, the youngest man left in singles, crossed Federer’s path in the locker room earlier in the tournament but did not dare to introduce himself.
“He’s there with his family, I don’t want to run after him or anything,” Goffin said. “And I don’t know what I could say to him except bonjour. We’ll see after the match on Sunday whether we talk or not.”
David Goffin was born on December 7th, 1990 according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Goffin
December 7th, 1990
12 + 7 +2+0+1+1 = 23 = his personal year (from December 7th, 2011 to December 6th, 2012) = Sports. Athlete. Taking the lead.
23 year + 5 (May) = 28 = his personal month (from May 7th, 2012 to June 6th, 2012) = Unstoppable.
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