Coming into the Nitto ATP Finals, David Goffin had won two titles this season: the Shenzhen and Japan Open. He had reached the quarterfinals of six tournaments and were in three finals. He had played everyone that had entered the NItto Finals in London and have won as well as lost matches with them too.
Goffin walked into the tournament with great confidence. These were the big guys who had tons of tennis credibility and the Belgian believed he did too. Goffin received his performance test on the opening of the round-robin play at the Nitto ATP Finals in London's 02 arena.
Rafael Nadal was Goffin's first opponent, one of the toughest and the Belgian had expressed that "It was not easy for my nerves ... every player knows it's always tough to finish a match against Rafa ... " But finishing against Nadal had its advantages because the Spaniard was suffering from a knee ailment but didn't want to disappoint the fans and the tennis community by not showing up, so he came.
The first set was Goffin's in the tiebreaker but it was a close score. Nadal was looking much like his regular performance mantra, but Goffin was the manipulator in the tiebreaker and moved Nadal around at will. He'd hit unpredictable shots often leaving Rafa off-balanced and Goffin won the first set 7-6.
The second set Nadal bounced back. The Belgian's 5-4 lead diminished as Rafa pumped up his game bringing the set to a tiebreaker and winning it 7 points to Goffin's 4. But the stress of the match and his knee injury was getting the best of the Spaniard and he just couldn't pull the deciding set together and win.
Goffin told the media afterward that " ... I noticed a bit that he wasn't moving perfectly. He was struggling a little bit ... but yeah I wanted to win this one if he was struggling ... his fighting spirit was there ... " Goffin won the match and the opening round 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 after having lost a few times to Rafa this season at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters then at the Madrid Open.
This was a great accomplishment for the Belgian and it gave him a strong presence of knowing that he could continue to do well here in London. The Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov was Goffin's next opponent and Dimitrov has been doing well most of the season, having won Brisbane against Kei Nishikori, the Sofia Open against Goffin, and the Western and Southern title over Nick Kyrgios.
Goffin's efforts to win over Dimitrov was futile though and their history was of the Belgian winning only 1 time to the Bulgarian's 5 times victory. Goffin felt the struggle of playing Dimitrov and the first set was a 6-0 win in the Bulgarian's favor.
He was steaming and blasting Goffin in the second set with the score being 6-2 leaving the Belgian feeling quite aimless as to what his future at this tournament would be. Goffin was opposite Dominic Thiem for the third round and the history they had together was to Goffin's advantage with him winning 7 times out of the 10 meets.
The Belgian won over the Austrian this time too at 6-4, 6-1. But Goffin brought his self-assurance with him after the Thiem match and entered the semifinal round as another test of his performance level when he would be opposite Roger Federer.
The mistakes he'd made with Dimitrov, he changed when playing Federer. Goffin had lost the first set with the Swiss at 2-6 but made up for things with the second set being aggressive and finding open spots on the court that Federer didn't predict to happen and Goffin won the set 6-3.
The deciding set Goffin kept the momentum and the steam on his Swiss iconic opponent with good plays and strategy as he won from opening up the court and just playing good tactics with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 win. This was the first time Goffin ever defeated Federer, a huge plus in the 7 times they have played.
At this point, Goffin must have felt he had nothing to lose. He played everyone and the results were already made. He had made it to the final and his one last match was with Grigor Dimitrov...again. Goffin's loss in the last round with the Bulgarian didn't set right with him but he would try his best to beat the odds of their play with Dimitrov winning 5 times out of the sixth time they've played other than the Nitto Final.
The match had gone the distance with Dimitrov winning the opening set 7-5 and Goffin counteracting and winning the second at 6-4. The last deciding set Dimitrov poured the slices and spins on. He was finding the open court areas and many times had Goffin out of position as he either put the shot down-the-line or made a winning volley.
The rallies were labored and exhausting but it was Dimitrov who had the less unforced errors and maintained his cool to come up with the winning set, match and tournament to be the winner of the Nitto ATP Finals at London with a 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 score.
Dimitrov was exhausted and said of his gameplay that "You've got a few days that whatever you touch turns to gold and I think today that was the first set for sure. I was believing in my shots".Goffin naturally wanted to win but it was the endurance of the Finals and the opponents he played that made him learn and elevate not only his skills, but his ranking to number seven as well as being the finalist of a prestigious tournament with top-ranked competitors now he can say includes himself.