Healthy Goffin Goes For Glory In Antwerp

David Goffin, center, with Michael Geerts and Germain Gigounon (photo: Belga/European Open)

ANTWERP/WASHINGTON, October 17, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Among the storylines unfolding at the seventh edition of the ATP 250 European Open, which takes place this week in the capital city of Belgium’s Flemish region, involves home hero David Goffin.

Will this be the year that the 31-year-old from Liège triumphs in his home country?

Goffin, who is making his fifth appearance in Antwerp, where he was a 2016 semifinalist, twice has been an indoor titlist at Tour level, at Metz in 2014 and last year at Montpellier. Now, he would love nothing better than to add a title at Antwerp to his trophy collection.

Unseeded, Goffin begins the week as the highest-ranked Belgian in the 28-player main draw at No. 58. He’s the only player from Belgium ranked in the ATP Top 100.

After withdrawing from last week’s UniCredit Firenze Open due to a non-Covid-19 illness that left him bedridden for several days in Florence, Goffin is once again healthy and has enjoyed a couple of days of practice in preparation for his first-round match against 17-year-old Belgian wild card Gilles Arnaud Bailly, who is ranked 1185th. The Goffin-Bailly generational tussle will be the featured match Tuesday evening in Lotto Arena.

Earlier this month, Goffin achieved one of the best results of his pro career, which began in 2009, when he upset World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, 7-5, 6-3, at the Astana Open in Kazakhstan. Certainly, it ranks as his biggest win of the 2022 season, where he’s compiled an otherwise unremarkable 25-24 win-loss record.

“I always believe that I have the level to cause some trouble against those guys,” Goffin said after his victory over Alcaraz. “Of course, it has not been my best period, I haven’t been playing really well in the past few tournaments, but I always believe and practice and you never know.”

Since a quarterfinal run at Wimbledon, Goffin lost five consecutive first-round matches during the North American hard-court swing, and began the fall European indoor season with an opening-round defeat at Metz to Frenchman Gilles Simon. It wasnt until at Astana two weeks ago that Goffin began to turn things around against Alcaraz, relying on his pace and consistency to gain his third career win over a No. 1-ranked player.

“When you play against the World No. 1 on a big stage, big crowd, the fire inside you gives you so much power to play your best tennis because you don’t have any choice. You have to fight and give your best and that was the case. I always believed I had it … ” Goffin said.

The subject of Goffin’s early-October triumph over Alcaraz was a talking point during the English-language portion of the Belgian’s 12-minute pre-tournament press conference on Sunday.

Goffin was asked if there’s a secret to beating Alcaraz? “No, there is no secret,” he said in a philosophical tone of voice. “I just played a good match. Probably, my game fits well against his game. It was great! Yeah. Maybe, it was not his best match ever, but I played well from the start until the end. It was a solid match. Now, I hope to be ready for this one [against Bailly].”

Draper came ready to play

Making his return to the Tour after a two-month respite – fully recovered from a hamstring injury suffered during the US Open – No. 48 Jack Draper of Great Britain made a statement at Lotto Arena. He’s back and ready to compete.

Draper easily won his #NextGen clash with No. 41 Jenson Brooksby of the United States, 6-1, 6-2. It was his second career win over the young American in two tries. Brooksby, a semifinalist at Antwerp last year, remains winless on Tour against left-handed competition.

“On my service games I was hitting my spots really well and I wasn’t missing many returns as well,” Draper said in his on-court interview. “Jenson is someone who competes really well, so I felt it was important to get on the front foot as much as possible and not let him play his game because he is so awkward. I am glad with the way I played.”

The 20-year-old Draper dropped just one point on his serve in the opening set – winning three of four service games at love – and went on to finish the one-hour first-round match with 21 winners while committing just four unforced errors. He secured match point on his second effort with his third ace that the 21-year-old Brooksby swung at and missed.

It all added up brilliantly for Draper, who outplayed and outpointed Brooksby 54-24 to garner his 16th tour-level victory of the season. Next, Draper will play World No. 11 and top seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland in the second round. He looks forward to the challenge. “I feel like I can beat anyone. I’m really confident. I know it’s going to be a tough match, but I’ll be ready and hopefully I can play similar to how I did today,” he said.

Evans makes it 2-for-2 for the British

No. 5 seed Daniel Evans of Great Britain won his 21st hard-court match on Tour this season with his 6-3, 6-4 victory over hard-hitting Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands. Although the 68th-ranked Dutchman saved a match point to prolong the first-round contest, Evans put away the win a game later to advance against Tuesday’s winner between No. 69 Constant Lestienne of France and 225th-ranked qualifier Jesper de Jong of the Netherlands.

A 2020 semifinalist at Antwerp, Evans finished his win over Griekspoor with only 11 winners but also made just four unforced errors. He saved the only break point he faced. Evans took advantage of 17 unforced errors by his opponent and outpointed Griekspoor 63-52. Evans is now 4-1 lifetime in Antwerp.

“I lost my last match, so it was a good point to try to come out and get a win and stay focused,” said the World No. 26 Evans in his on-court interview. He came into this week’s tournament having lost three of his last four matches dating back to his semifinal finish last month at San Diego. “It was nice to play some good tennis and play a good match.”

Gasquet remains Wawrinka’s nemesis

Stan Wawrinka has not always fared well against French opponents. The 2019 Antwerp finalist from Switzerland came into his match against 2016 European Open champion and current No. 82 Richard Gasquet of France on a five-match losing streak against French opponents. Now make it six.

In Monday evening’s featured match between a pair of wily and tested ATP Tour veterans facing each other for the first time since 2015 at Wimbleon, the 193rd-ranked Wawrinka fell 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 after squandering three match points during the 12th game of the second set.

With another lifeline at his disposal, the 36-year-old Gasquet rallied from a break down in the final set to beat the 37-year-old three-time Grand Slam champion and Olympic gold medalist in two hours and four minutes. The win advanced Gasquet to the second round against either No. 7 seed Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands or !36th-ranked qualifier Dominic Stricker, who play Tuesday afternoon.

Although Gasquet was statistically beaten by Wawrinka – he overcame 15 aces and 41 winners while being outpointed 95-92 – the stylish Frenchman was never quite out of it as he improved to 3-1 lifetime against the Swiss star. Gasquet struck 30 winners of his own – backed with plenty of outstanding one-fisted returns –and made only 16 unforced errors. He converted two of seven break points, including on match point.

Tired but satisfied, Gasquet was asked in his on-court interview how it felt to win after saving three match points an hour earlier. “It was a bit tricky. Sometimes, in sports, it pays to be a little bit tricky. That was the case today, especially on the match points,” he said after improving to 23-17 on the season. “[For the most part] he was the better player on the court, but I tried to fight winning the second set. In the third, I fought better. I’m happy I won this match.”

Around the Lotto Arena

• When chocolate meets tennis: Belgium’s David Goffin, Karen Khachanov of Russia and No. 1 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland took some time out of their tournament schedule Monday to visit Chocolate Nation in Antwerp.

• Qualifying draw top seed Tim van Rijthoven of the Netherlands led a group of four who advanced to the main draw following their second-round qualifying wins on Monday afternoon. No. 113 Van Rijthoven beat alternate Alexander Erler of Austria, 7-6 (3), 6-3; No. 6 seed Jesper de Jong of the Netherlands, ranked 225th, upset No. 4 seed Manuel Guinard of France, ranked 148th, 7-6 (7), 6-2; No. 8 seed Luca van Assche of France, ranked 241st, defeated fellow countryman and No. 3 seed Geoffrey Blancaneaux, 7-6 (11), 4-6, 6-2; and No. 2 seed Dominic Stricker of Switzerland, ranked 136th, advanced over No. 7 seed Nicolas Alvarez Varona of Spain, ranked 219th, by retirement after winning the first set 7-6 (9).

• In the only first-round doubles match on Monday’s order of play, Hugo Nys of Monaco and Jan Zielinski of Poland played spoilers against the Belgian wild card team of Ruben Bemelmans and Alexander Blockx. Nys and Zielinski won  6-0, 6-2 to advance to the next round. It was the final match in the 34-year-old Bemelman’s pro career, which began in 2006.

• Among the many activities around Lotto Arena on Monday was an autograph session featuring World No. 18 Karen Khachanov of Russia.

Monday’s European Open results

Tuesday’s European Open order of play

By the numbers

Jenson Brooksby of the United States is 0-6 versus left-handers on tour-level in his career.

“Quotable …”

“I feel good. I had been ill for a little bit and a bit injured, but I feel really good out there. I’m happy this is my first tournament back – such a great tournament – and the atmosphere is really good.”

Jack Draper of Great Britain, during his on-court interview following his straight-set win over Jenson Brooksby.