2017 was all about two men, but the year’s last match, to everyone’s surprise, did not feature either of them. The 2017 tennis season came to a close tonight in London, and it was two unfamiliar characters in the year’s final act. Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, who has shown flashes of brilliance this year, squared off against Belgian David Goffin. Goffin, in many ways, was responsible for fans not getting the fairytale ending they craved, as Nadal withdrew after Goffin beat him in the round robin and the diminutive Belgian upended Federer in the semis. Nevertheless, this match still promised to be a welcome change to the usual duopoly as two talented younger players squared off for the fifth biggest title of the year. They would not disappoint, as Dimitrov would go on to prevail in a high quality match: 7-5 4-6 6-3. Let’s take a look back at 2017’s final match.

Dimitrov had of course trashed Goffin on this court earlier in the group stages, but the beauty of this event is that there are second chances, a rare thing in tennis. Goffin would try to make good on that fact. The Belgian got off to a good start in the first game, as he generated two break points, scorching a forehand return on the second one to nab the break. A clear message to Dimitrov that Goffin would be a much tougher test than in their round robin match. However, Dimitrov was all business as well as he promptly saw two break points of his own, converting the second after Goffin sent a forehand long. The next game would be more of the same as some shaky serving from Dimitrov and a big forehand from Goffin got the Belgian to 0-40. Goffin would take the third break point with a stunning angled backhand pass to lead 2-1. With three straight breaks to open the match, this one looked to be a roller coaster ride.

Goffin would restore some normalcy in the next game, holding to 30 for 3-1. This would continue as the men traded holds for 4-3. At 4-3, Dimitrov threatened on Goffin’s serve with 0-30, and while Goffin drew level with some sparkling net play, a double fault and a wild error let Dimitrov back into the first set, which was now level at 4-4. Dimitrov followed with an impressive game, and Goffin would serve to stay in the first set.

The pressure did not get to Goffin, but Dimitrov would put it right back on him, overcoming two doubles to hold for 6-5. Goffin would start to feel the pressure, as Dimitrov saw a set point, but Goffin saved it with a stunning forehand down the line. However, a missed volley gave Dimitrov another set point, but once more Goffin saved it with a big serve. The game proved to be a titanic struggle with several deuces, and Dimitrov would emerge from the battle bruised and bloody, but victorious nonetheless, taking the first set 7-5.

The second set would open in stark contrast to the first, as the two competitors traded holds to 3-2. However, in the sixth game of the set, Dimitrov generated a break point and Goffin was fighting for his life in this match. It showed, as he barely clipped the line on a desperate backhand to save it. Goffin responded with some clutch serving to level the second at 3, a huge hold for him. Goffin would draw confidence from this and some aggressive hitting gave him 2 break points in the next game. The Belgian would need only one, as he crunched another forehand to pull ahead 4-3 in the second set. A stunning turn of events, could Goffin hold on and send this into a decider? The answer would be a resounding yes as Goffin held for 5-3. The 5-3 game featured awe-inspiring shotmaking, with a ridiculous angled backhand pass from Goffin and a Federer-esque backhand baseline half volley from Dimitrov.

Dimitrov would win that game, but Goffin served out the second set with aplomb, sending the year’s final match to a fitting conclusion. It was a stunning set for Goffin, with 16 winners to just 6 errors. Could he replicate that in the decider and take home by far the biggest title of his career?

Sure enough, Goffin picked up right where he left off, generating three break points in the opening game of the third. However, Dimitrov’s serve was up to the task, and he saved all of them. Goffin kept pushing however, and a couple of booming forehands got him another break point, which he narrowly missed after he sent a backhand long. After a sixteen point game, Dimitrov would eventually hold on, a huge hold for him to start the third. The fireworks would continue in the next game, as a breathtaking defensive backhand got Dimitrov a break point. However, some big serving would save Goffin and he drew level in the third at 1-1. The high quality of this match continued in the next few games as neither man gave an inch, exchanging easy holds to 3-2. Here, a combination of Goffin’s serve deserting him and Dimitrov upping the ante off the baseline produced break points for the Bulgarian. Goffin fought back to deuce, but a couple of wayward backhands gave Dimitrov the crucial break of serve to go up 4-2 in the final set.

Dimitrov would not let up, as he easily held for 5-2, and the match was firmly on his racket. Dimitrov opened the next game by winning an entertaining cat and mouse rally at net, and he would follow with another amazing point to go up 0-30.

Dimitrov then cracked a backhand pass, and he had three championship points. Goffin would not go quietly, as he saved the first with a laser of a crosscourt backhand and the second with an ace. Dimitrov weakly hit a forehand into the net, and Goffin had come back to deuce. Goffin then cracked a forehand into the corner and produced a first serve to hold for 3-5. A truly tremendous hold of serve when it seemed like all hope was lost. Both men missed easy shots to open the next game, and some terrific defense from Dimitrov at 15-15 once again brought the finish line into focus. A big serve brought up more match points for Dimitrov, but Goffin continued to attack, and Dimitrov barely missed a forehand pass on the first match point. However, the fifth time was the charm for Dimitrov as Goffin dumped a backhand volley into the net. Dimitrov had emerged victorious in a thrilling match, a fitting end to one of the more memorable years in recent memory.

 

It was a tremendous week for both men and probably the best tennis either of them has played. Goffin fought as hard as he could, but Dimitrov was simply too good this week. Both men will fittingly finish with career high rankings, Dimitrov at #3, and Goffin at #7. Dimitrov had some disappointing moments this year, but his performances in Australia, Cincinnati, and here in London give hope that he could yet still be a grand slam contender, and hopefully he takes that step next year.

Thanks to all of you for supporting tennis-pulse this year, and I hope you all tune in next year as well, which should be even more entertaining as Djokovic, Murray, and Wawrinka make their way make into the mix and the likes of Dimitrov, Thiem, Zverev, Goffin, Shapovalov, and Rublev continue to try and make their marks. Until then, so long!