Grigor Dimitrov climbed up to third in the world rankings after edging out David Goffin in a gripping ATP Finals title decider in London this week. It was the biggest win of the Bulgarian’s career and suggested he is finally ready to deliver on his potential and join the game’s elite. He became the first debutant to win the season ending ATP Finals since Alex Corretja in 1998 and scooped £1.9 million for his efforts.
It was not the final the sell-out crowd expected, but it was a pulsating encounter played out by two free-hitting, exciting stars and the fans certainly got their money’s worth.
Little went to script in the ATP Finals, which brings together the eight highest ranked men’s players in the world for a season finale. There was no Andy Murray, sidelined by a knee injury, while Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka also missed out with ailments, so six-time champion Roger Federer went into the tournament as the heavy favourite to secure victory, followed by world number one Rafa Nadal and exciting youngster Alexander Zverev. Anyone that opted for Dimitrov in the Sports Spread Betting | Sporting Index markets made a fantastic profit as the sixth seed was not given much of a chance against the evergreen Federer and Nadal.
However, Nadal bowed out after one match – a three set defeat at the hands of Goffin – as he was suffering from an injury of his own, and he was replaced by fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta. That left the Pete Sampras Group wide open. For the uninitiated, the ATP Finals is unlike any other tournament in tennis because it does not follow a straight knockout format. Instead the players are divided into two groups of four – the Pete Sampras group and the Boris Becker Group – and the top two in each progress to the semi-finals, with the victors meeting in a final to decide the champion. Dimitrov won all three games to top the group, while Goffin beat Busta and Dominic Thiem to qualify in second place.
Federer was dominant in the Boris Becker Group, winning all three games in comfortable fashion to finish top of the pile. Zverev was tipped to join him in the knockout stage of the tournament, but the German suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Jack Sock and that sent him crashing out. To compound his misery, he has now been overtaken by Dimitrov in the world rankings and will end the year in fourth place. Maran Cilic lost all three games to finish bottom, while Sock went through in second place.
However, that was as good as it got for the young American, who came up against big serving Dimitrov in the semi-finals. US fans could have been forgiven for getting excited after the first set, which Sock took 6-4, but the Dimitrov blew him away, winning 6-0, 6-3 to progress to the final.
Then came the shock of the tournament, as Goffin beat Federer in the other semi-final. The Belgian had faced Federer six times previously and had never come close to beating him. “I’ve never found a key to beat Roger,” he said before the match. “Honestly, I don’t know what to do tomorrow.” Goffin certainly played the role of cannon fodder with aplomb in the first set, standing nonplussed as the Swiss toyed with him, pulling him back and forth, left and right, with insouciant drop shots and blistering passing drives.
However, Goffin surprised everyone by breaking early in the second set and suddenly gained momentum. Federer began to look laboured out on the court and Goffin seized his chance to capitalise. He won the second set 6-3 and served extremely well to close out a 6-4 win in the decider.
The battle-wearied Goffin then went back into the lion’s pit to face Dimitrov, who had beaten him 6-0, 6-2 earlier in the tournament. The final was a far more even and pulsating clash, however, and both players acquitted themselves brilliantly, serving up a spectacle of the highest quality. Dimitrov eventually won, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, but Goffin proved himself to be the Bulgarian’s equal throughout and almost nicked victory.
The match was not without its controversy either as the hugely partisan crowd, largely made up of roaring Bulgarian flag bearers, did everything in their power to distract Goffin at crucial moments when serving for key points.
Dimitrov gained the ultimate prize – his fourth of the season, following the Brisbane International, the Sofia Open and the Cincinnati Open – but both men showed they will be forces to be reckoned with in 2018.
There is a bit of a power vacuum in men’s tennis at present, with Federer and Nadal ageing, Murray and Djokovic crocked and Zverev and Sock still developing, and these two showed they can be the ones to fill it. It all leaves the sport poised for a hugely exciting 2018 and fans will be desperate to see how it pans out.
Martin Green is an experienced sports writer and has been covering the ATP Finals for many years.