By Martyn Herman
GHENT, Belgium (Reuters) – If Belgium are to win the Davis Cup final for the first time this week then baby-faced David Goffin will have to come of age.
The 24-year-old world number 16 has climbed the rankings quickly in the past 18 months but he has yet to experience a career-changing moment.
Against Britain in this week’s showpiece at the Flanders Expo in Ghent he has the chance to truly announce himself on the big stage by leading his country to an unlikely triumph.
The outcome of his clash against world number two Andy Murray could go a long way to deciding which nation will be celebrating.
That is why he is quick to discount a 6-1 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Murray at the Paris Masters three weeks ago.
“The day I played Andy in Bercy it was just a day off for me,” Goffin said this week.
“I didn’t play really well. Andy was really aggressive. He played an unbelievable match there.
“But it’s different conditions here. It’s a completely different match. Another surface. I just have to forget that match and think about the matches this weekend.”
At the 2012 French Open, Goffin, who could have been mistaken for a player in the junior event, reached the last 16 where he had Roger Federer in trouble before losing in four sets.
Belgium thought they had found a male player to carry the baton from former women’s world number ones Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, but great expectations proved to be a burden.
There was no doubting Goffin’s ability, but the physicality and aggression of men’s tennis were missing.
It was not until 2014 that things began to click.
From January to July that year he could count his wins on the fingers of one hand as he recovered from a wrist injury.
But he dropped down to play Challengers, won four of them in a row, bagged a first ATP title in Kitzbuehel and shot up nearly 100 places in the rankings.
He is now established in the top 20, yet not everyone is convinced he will be able to cope with this week’s spotlight.
Mark Cox, part of the last British side to reach the Davis Cup final in 1978, says Murray is more likely to respond to the super-charged atmosphere inside the 13,000-seat venue.
“Some people react positively to it,” he told Reuters. “Murray clearly loves it, but for some players it’s not always a good thing.
“From what I understand (Goffin) is a bit of an introvert and he may not find playing a Davis Cup final at home in front of his own crowd very easy.”
(Editing by Rex Gowar)