David Goffin had finally pulled everything together in Monte Carlo 2017 to score his first win over the players ranked in the top-3, coming from behind in the final set to topple Novak Djokovic and reach the semi-final, meeting another tennis giant Rafael Nadal there.
Interestingly, they had never played before and it should have been a great contest, something the spectators got in the first six games. Nonetheless, David wasted no less than ten game points to move 4-2 up, wasting them all and never acting like the same player in the rest of the clash, taking only one game to propel Rafa into the final!
Nadal scored a 6-3, 6-1 triumph to advance into his 11th Monte Carlo final, with the most crucial moment of the encounter coming from one poor call from the chair umpire Cedric Mourier who turned the whole battle in favor of one player while the other faded from the court.
Overall, it was another routine victory for Rafa on his favorite ground, making the difference with his second serve (12 out of 14 points won) and converting five out of 11 break chances to hold the encounter firmly in his hands after that crucial game six of the opening set.
Goffin played great in the opening five games and Nadal needed some time to find the rhythm and impose his strokes, getting into the zone and cracking the Belgian's game to dominate in the rest of the duel. Goffin had 13 service winners, which is a decent number for him, while Nadal stayed on nine.
In the winners from the field, the Spaniard was 15-11 in front, firing 11 forehand winners and three from his backhand while David had five from a forehand and four from a backhand. Unforced errors were the segment that buried any chance for Goffin to achieve a more positive result, spraying 27 of those and 18 from his forehand alone, three times more than Rafa who stayed on only nine.
The Belgian added 14 forced errors in comparison to ten from Nadal, taking only four games despite a promising start. They were on equal terms in the shortest rallies up to four strokes (25-22 for Nadal) while the Spaniard had the edge in the middle-range rallies up to eight shots, taking 20 out of 32.
Rafa was also much better in the most extended exchanges, winning nine out of 11 points once the rally would reach 13 or more strokes. Both players were in a solid rhythm from the very first point and everything suggested we could get one of the encounters of the tournament, if not the best one.
David created two break chances in the opening game with forehand winners (the best shot in the first half of the first set) and Nadal fended them off with three winners to close the game after an 18-stroke rally. Goffin had a good hold in game two and broke Nadal in the following one to open up a 2-1 gap and move in front.
David's tactic was transparent, taking the ball as early as possible and the time out from Nadal's shot, driving Spaniard away from the comfort zone that got him so many titles here in Monte Carlo. As for illustration, in the entire match against Zverev, Nadal committed eight unforced and five forced errors, already hitting nine errors after three games against the Belgian!
Goffin had a clear advantage in the mid-range rallies (7-2 after game five, but it would be 10-10 by the end of the set) and another comfortable hold sent him 3-1 in front, leaving Nadal with a lot of work to do if he wanted to get back on the scoreboard.
In game five, David started to make mistakes but that was all part of the process when someone is playing on such an aggressive note as he did, with Nadal reducing the deficit to 3-2 after taking an essential 20-stroke rally.
Then, that pivotal sixth game was on the board, with David failing to convert those gigantic ten game opportunities, allowing Rafa to break him and level the score instead of moving 4-2 in front. The Belgian was 40-0 up but just couldn't close the game, starting to spray errors more and more to keep Nadal in the game.
On his seventh game chance, David won the point when Nadal sent the forehand some ten centimeters behind the baseline, believing that he had finally finished the game. Instead of that, Mourier came down from his chair, pointing out at what was clearly the wrong mark and repeating the point.
Of course, this caused an angry reaction from usually calm and composed Belgian who couldn't believe how colossal error Mourier just made. Also, instead of calling the line judge to show the right mark or to bring the supervisor instantly, he argued for a while and continued to play, never finding the rhythm again and fading from the court completely.
After almost 20 minutes of drama, Nadal broke for a 3-3 when David missed a forehand, with the Spaniard taking nine out of the last ten games to wrap up a safe win in what looked like a stern test for him in the opening six games.
By this point, Nadal was back in contention, with massive momentum on his side after a miraculous escape in the previous game (Goffin was robbed in the most obvious way but also had nine other opportunities to bring that game home).
Rafa went 4-3 in front with a love service game, just what he needed to destroy rival's pace, breaking again in game eight for a 5-3 lead. Another hold at love gave him the set 6-3 after 56 minutes, taking 15 of the last 17 points and sending the course of the match towards one direction after that.
David couldn't keep his pace from the initial 25 minutes of the encounter, increasing the number of unforced errors to 16 by the end of the set while Nadal settled into an excellent rhythm that was now very hard to break or interrupt.
Goffin had to leave the opening set and that controversial point behind him as soon as possible, although it was easier to be said than done, especially against Nadal who now controlled the encounter on all levels. Nevertheless, he had a promising start, hitting three service winners to grab the opening game, in what would be his last of the clash.
Nadal was now on a different level, dropping just two points on serve in three service games and with only two unforced errors by his name, having a clear advantage in the rallies. Goffin's shots were now loose and disconnected, making too many errors in those seven games and standing no chance against the persistent and stable rival who was marching towards his 11th Monte Carlo final and 44th in the Masters 1000 series overall.
Rafa broke in game three when David sent an easy backhand long, with another break coming at 3-1 after a weak volley from the Belgian at the net. Nadal was now 4-1 in front and everybody knew that the match is coming to its closure very quickly.
An amazing forehand down the line winner gave him another break at 5-1, rattling off six straight games to seal the deal and break Goffin's resistant in the best possible way, although we will never know how good the match could have been without that mammoth error from Mourier that turned the tables completely.