By Martyn Herman
GHENT, Belgium (Reuters) – It was a “must-win” rubber for Belgium to have any hope of becoming Davis Cup champions for the first time but David Goffin came perilously close to humiliation before beating British debutant Kyle Edmund from two sets down on Friday.
The opening skirmish of the final on a claycourt inside the charmless Flanders Expo began with a 12-minute game, then saw Goffin completely overwhelmed by a free-swinging 20-year-old for more than an hour before recovering his senses to win 3-6 1-6 6-2 6-1 6-0 to send the home fans crazy.
“It was not easy. Kyle was really heavy with every forehand. It was hard for me to find my timing,” Goffin, who had never before recovered a two-set deficit, said.
“I knew if Kyle was playing like this, bravo, but if there was a small chance I had to take it. “He played really heavy and I was surprised.”
World number two Andy Murray, undefeated in Britain’s journey to the final including six singles wins, plays unfancied Ruben Bemelmans later when he is expected to level the tie.
Defeat for Goffin would have left Belgium’s dreams in tatters. And the pressure seemed to effect the 24-year-old world number 16 as his game disintegrated against world number 100 Edmund, a surprise choice as Britain’s second singles pick.
Crunching forehands with immense power, Edmund was in complete control for more than an hour and looked set to become the first debutant to win a live rubber in the Davis Cup final.
But for a forehand that missed by a whisker he would have claimed the first set 6-0. Goffin recovered from 0-5 to 3-5 but Edmund was undaunted, taking the opening set to huge cheers from the blocks of British fans doing their best to out-shout the home supporters.
They were in full voice as Edmund reeled off six consecutive games against a stunned opponent to move two sets clear. Edmund held serve with a crafty drop shot at the start of the third set and it seemed the match would be over in 20 minutes if he maintained his level. But Goffin finally got a foothold when he broke the Edmund serve to lead 2-1 and the momentum quickly shifted.
He extended his lead to 4-1 but there were still nerves as Edmund broke back immediately to love. Edmund led 30-0 in the next game but Goffin hit back to regain some breathing space before taking the set.
With the spring back in legs that seemed set in concrete earlier, and his arms released from the straightjacket, Goffin began to feed off the energy of the 13,000 crowd. Dictating with his accurate groundstrokes he pushed Edmund around and waited for the errors to mount.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman)