Novak Djokovic seeks his first tour semi-final since the opening week of the season when he takes on Belgium’s David Goffin in the quarter finals of the Monte Carlo Masters on Friday.
The world number two opened the year with a title in Doha, but he has not made an ATP semi-final since then; he was bundled out in the second round of the Australian Open by Denis Istomin, served off the park by Nick Kyrgios in the quarter finals in Acapulco, and beaten again by Kyrgios in the fourth round at Indian Wells.
Djokovic pulled out of the Miami Open because of an elbow injury, but he returned to guide Serbia into the semi-finals of the Davis Cup, before heading to Monte Carlo for the clay court season.
At the start of the week in Monte Carlo, Djokovic spoke about how he wanted to move on from a difficult year. His route to the last eight in Monte Carlo has been far from plain-sailing, but there have been signs of that unrivalled stubborn refusal to lose, which stood him out during his world number one days.
Not that those days are totally gone of course; far from gone! With Andy Murray struggling for form and fitness, Djokovic has every chance of regaining that number one ranking pretty soon- should he take care of business in his own end.
He has been taking care of business so far, just.
Djokovic looked to be cruising when he lead by a set and a break against the dangerous Gilles Simon in the opening round, but Simon hit back to take the second set, dragging the two-time champion into an unwanted decider. After an exchange of breaks midway through the final set, Simon broke again in the ninth game, earning the right to serve for the match. The Frenchman, who had been playing some sensational tennis up until that point, faltered as he closed in on the victory. Djokovic broke back, and went on to seal a hard-fought victory after two hours and 33 minutes.
Djokovic’s second match followed a very similar patter to the one against Simon. Again, the Serbian led by a set and a break, but just like Simon, Carreno-Busta dug deep to force a decider. Djokovic got the first break of the final set, but again, he couldn’t shake off his Spanish opponent, who again got back on terms and turned this into a real dog fight.
Djokovic sank into further trouble at 4-4 15-40, but the Serbian fended off those break points before going on to break in the next game to come out on the right side of another two-and-a half hour slug.
After surviving two gruelling three-setters in Monte Carlo, Novak Djokovic will hope for a smoother ride when he takes on Belgium’s David Goffin in Friday’s quarter-final action.
Like Djokovic, Goffin came through a tough three-setter in the third round, recovering from a break down in the final set to beat Dominic Thiem. The Belgian had come through his opening couple of matches in straight sets, dismissing compatriot, Steve Darcis for the loss of just three games in the first round, before taking down Nicolas Almagro 7-5 6-1 in the second round.
Goffin has always been good on clay- it was the surface on which he made that first real splash in 2012, going from the qualifiers all the way through to the fourth round of the French Open (and even taking the first set off Roger Federer before falling in four sets).
Goffin reached the quarter finals at Roland Garros last season in a decent clay campaign that also yielded a quarter final at the Rome Masters, but he has never reached a Masters 1000 semi-final on clay, something he will try to correct on Friday.
Goffin has already contested two finals in 2017, reaching back-to-back finals in Sofia and Rotterdam, and losing both to Grigor Dimitrov and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga respectively- a set of results that propelled him into the top 10 (although he has since slipped back out to number 13). His other result of note in a generally consistent year has been a quarter final at the Australian Open, while he fell in the fourth rounds at both Indian Wells and Miami.
Goffin has a poor record against Djokovic, losing all five previous meetings between the pair, and taking just one set off the Serbian in those meetings. Djokovic was absolutely dominant in their most recent reunion, handing the Belgian a 6-1 6-2 beat-down at last year’s World Tour Finals in London. To be fair, Goffin was drafted in as a late replacement for the injured Gael Monfils, so preparation and motivation would not have been optimum.
Now that he is fully prepared, and presumably properly motivated, Goffin goes in search of his first ever victory over the Serbian, and this will be his best chance yet.
Djokovic is obviously not playing his best tennis, having struggled to put away Simon and Carreno-Busta in his opening two rounds. Goffin is not to dissimilar to those two players, as he is also very difficult to hit through, particularly on these slow courts, and thrives on getting as many balls back as possible. The Belgian has also got a decent offence, particularly on the backhand wing.
This is another match that will test Djokovic’s patience, and provided he keeps his cool and picks the right shots, he should win this one.
The Serbian does every little thing just that little bit better than Goffin, and as long as he maintains a reasonably high level of play, he should have too much for a valiant Goffin.