David Goffin can return to the top of the game – but only by committing to a more aggressive, offensive style.
That’s the verdict of his coach Thomas Johansson, who reunited with the Belgian in late February this year after working with Goffin for much of 2016 as a consultant coach.
During their first stint together, Goffin rose to world No.11; he went on to crack the top 10 in early 2017, peaking at No.7 in November that year.
Yet he currently resides at No.21, trying to work his way up again after several setbacks.
“We are working to try and make him a more offensive player. Because in today’s tennis, when you look at Rafa, Novak, Dominic, and all the best guys in the world, you have to try to take the net a couple of times in a match because they’re so good from the baseline – it’s extremely tough to beat them from there,” Johansson told Tennismash.
“The goal for me is to try to make him a little tougher as a player; more offensive, and aggressive, and not be afraid of taking the net, and play tough when the match is coming along.”
Most recently, Goffin staged an encouraging run to the last 16 in Miami under Johansson’s eye, and in 2019 also reached the semifinals in Marseille and third round of the Australian Open.
Yet now in the fourth month of the season, he has barely budged from his current position in the rankings.
That may be unsurprising, given the momentum he has lost in previous seasons.
Coming into the 2017 French Open following a semifinal in Monte Carlo and quarterfinal in Madrid, Goffin wrenched his ankle during the third round in Paris when he tripped over a cover at the back of the court. He missed two months of competition.
It took him nearly five months to properly get going again, and he closed 2017 with ATP titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo and a run to the title match at London’s ATP Finals.
But just a few months after that, misfortune struck again.
This time it was in Rotterdam; in his semifinal against Grigor Dimitrov, he attempted a volley only for the ball to shoot off his racquet and hit him in the eye, forcing him to retire from that match. His vision impaired, he missed another month of tennis, and was welcomed back with a 6-0 6-1 opening-round loss in Miami to then 80th-ranked Joao Sousa.
In the subsequent 14 months he has not advanced to an ATP final, after appearing in five in 2017.
“A tough period for me; I changed coach, and then I had injuries, and then I tried to come back to my best level,” Goffin explained in an interview with the ATP Tennis Radio podcast.
“It takes a few moments and a few tournaments to get back to my best level, but it’s to win some important points, to save some break point … to play my best tennis when I need it.
“I’m back 100% (physically) now. I had a fracture at the end of last year to my elbow. Now I can serve 100 per cent, and that’s good.”
Goffin is hopeful the renewed partnership with Johansson will bear significant fruit.
“When I stopped with my former coach (Thierry Van Cleemput during Australian Open 2019) I spoke to Thomas to see how he sees me in the future and what he can bring to go back to the top. And I liked what we talked about,” Goffin said.
“He knows tennis really well; he knows what it is to win a Grand Slam, to be in top 10, to have a lot of wins.
“It can take a moment to have the good balance between what we’re working on – the aggressivity, the volleys, the serve.
“Now I’m 28; I’m investing for the next five years. I think it could be the best years of my career in front of me.”
The tennis calendar is entering a period that has traditionally been a successful one for the Belgian.
Clay season is here! ???????????? pic.twitter.com/GkY0eI3hMw
— David Goffin (@David__Goffin) April 4, 2019
A gifted clay-courter, he has reached the second week at Roland Garros three times and also posted three quarterfinal finishes in Rome in the last four years, in addition to his success in Monte Carlo and Madrid in 2017.
Johansson believes a top-10 return is a definite possibility.
“It will be tough but I think that because he has been in the top 10, he knows what he needs to do, and when I play this player I need to play like this,” Johansson said.
“(He is) aware of how freaking tough it is to break into the top 10 right now, because the competition is so hard. I think it’s been 19 different (tournament) winners this year. It can’t have happened before.
“It also shows that there are opportunities to win even the big tournaments now, so he’s very hungry to come back into the top 10, and excited to practice hard and do everything he can to try to compete with the big guns again.
“I would not be surprised if he’s back in the top 10. Time wise I can’t say (when). But I think he has a good chance.”
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