In this third round at Melbourne Park, Dominic Thiem of Austria and David Goffin of Belgium are set to square off, in what many expect to be an exhilarating encounter between two of the game’s most aesthetically pleasing to watch.
Goffin & where he fits in the modern game:
For all Goffin’s great hand skills & movement around the court, he doesn’t suit the modern game. He’s the type of player that would have potentially been extremely dangerous back before the mid 1990s, where racquets & strings were not as they are today & power not so much a factor. Today, players find it easier to generate immense power, together with immense topspin that gives the power they’re hitting with, an added control. Combining the two brings a frightening prospect & is why naturally powerful players who are able to successfully do so, are extremely dangerous.
We can see that by just looking at Wawrinka & Verdasco, who are near unplayable when in the right mood-for-action. Not only this, but the bigger & taller guys with long levers (Arms & legs) that were serving big in the past, are suddenly serving simply huge now & because of their height, consistently so. Hand-guns have become shot-guns & as much as people are disgruntled about the general surface speed, battling with a sword & shield from the baseline has turned second priority. If you don’t have a good serve or an exceptional return that can nullify a big serve, then your baseline game pales into insignificance when competing on the main tour.
The problem for Goffin is despite covering one of those two essentials with his adeptness at absorbing/redirecting pace on return, his lack of natural ability to generate his own pace/power(Particularly on his forehand) proves costly. Players like him & Nishikori are needing to perform to around 80 to 90% their best each match, week-in week-out in order survive on tour. Drop slightly below that level & they’re vulnerable to losing to lower ranked guys.
A talented counter-puncher Goffin has the ability to flip-the-script on opponents that come at him by redirecting the pace they deliver. This alone however is not enough. The lack of power in his game has meant taking any ‘thoughtful aggressive initiative’ has been much harder. Ivan Dodig mentioned it in an interview a few weeks back; in today’s game ‘no one style can win’ & ‘guys needs to be aggressively defensive & thoughtfully aggressive’. Against the best players in the world Goffin only has the aggressively defensive area covered. Most counter-punchers like Goffin struggle to generate their own power & their double-handed backhand which they also use to redirect the power of their shot, tends to be their weapon.
It is tougher for Goffin to be ‘thoughtfully’ aggressive as his weapon is his backhand. Angles are harder to find. With easier control & power Goffin would be able to be a little more open-minded with his aggressive thinking. He has to find other ways to win points & be creative, especially against the best. Guys like Goffin, Simon & Troicki are all in the same boat. All counter-punchers & all lack the forehands which can allow them to be aggressively thoughtful.
Thiem is explosive off both forehand & backhand wing & unlike Goffin has no trouble generating power on groundstrokes. Likening to Wawrinka he combines his explosive power with heavy amounts of topspin, this allows him the licence to go for even more & the tool to construct an aggressively thoughtful point. He’s an incredible shot-maker & like Goffin uses the full extremities of the court really well, drawing players wide which opens up space to hit into for the next shot.
Very calm under-pressure, smart with the way he constructs points once he gains the upper edge in the rally & has a good instinct for when he has his opponent stranded & about to play a defensive nothing-slice, knowing he can attack the net. His weakness is his return-of-serve, as with most single handers’ & doesn’t possess the slice (Feel) to compensate for it.
Players’ strengths and weaknesses:
Goffin’s strengths: Return of serve, movement, touch/feel.
Goffin’s weaknesses: Serve & inability to generate own pace on forehand.
Thiem’s strengths: Groundstrokes, forehand & backhand. First serve kicker in AD court.
Thiem’s weaknesses: Return of serve (Being a single hander & not having great slice or feel)
Thiem can duel with Goffin from the back-of-the-court as his movement is competent enough. Goffin’s major asset in being able to craft a point & draw opponents off-balance does not harm Thiem as much as it does other opponents. Once team has a footing in the rally, he is more than regularly capable of quite simply over-powering the diminutive Belgian.
Surface speed & who it suits:
As we’re all much aware plexicushion is the most ‘level’ of the playing surfaces. Many refer to it as medium. Neither slow nor fast with a fair bounce. There are long rallies, but hit the ball with some pace & it will indeed shoot through.
I would say despite Goffin’s decent clay court results, he does prefer the slightly quicker surfaces. Players have a lot less time to lay the smack-down upon his second serve & his backhand is able to penetrate through-the-court a little more. Being 5’9 Goffin is also a guy that probably prefers a slightly lower bounce. Counter-punchers like him prefer/rely on using the pace given to them by their opponent. (Which is easier to do when the bounce is low & the ball skids through, slightly) We’ve got to remember the reason for his win/loss statistic on clay is due to the stunning streak he went on in those South American challengers, back in 2014.
So all in all, a medium pace court is probably close to ideal for David. Avoids abuse to his second serve, isn’t too rushed at the baseline, can use the pace of the ball/shot coming at him & is also able to put his variety (Changes of pace + net-game) to good use.
I would say Thiem doesn’t particularly mind the medium court surface either, despite his obvious clay court prowess & weaker return. He’s not that rushed on his single-handed backhand as much (which has a long-take-back) & his attacking strokes are complimented by the surface, shooting through upon contact.
I really am unable to envision how Goffin can be holding serve as comfortably as Thiem. Dominic’s improved his serve in the last several months & the Belgian will need to be making a high percentage of first serves to avoid being continuously pressed into a position where he’s needing to play the role of counter-puncher in service games.
Both of course incredible shot-makers, but Thiem simply isn’t as reliant on having to craft the ball around as much to win his points, both in service & return games. For me that will prove the over-all difference.
Goffin struggles at generating his own pace/power with his forehand & whilst he has the necessary topspin on this shot required for allowing him to shape the ball around the court with measure, he’s unable to fully capitalise on opportunities left by opponents who drop the ball short. For me that’s a major fundamental difference between the two, prove pivotal in the match-up & what will see Dominic through to the fourth round in the eventual end.
Prediction: Dominic Thiem in 5 sets
(Betting perspective Thiem pays at around 1.60 with most bookmakers & bet trading exchanges)