In three weeks’ time, the two national No 1s will be at each other’s throats again, only then the stakes will be higher – the Davis Cup will on the line with both Great Britain and Belgium desperate to undo decades of hurt to win the huge trophy (Britain last won in 1936 and Belgium last got to the final in 1904).
On clay, in Ghent and in front of a home crowd, Goffin ought to put up a better display than the lame and listless effort he produced yesterday as he was pasted 6-1, 6-0 but Murray cannot help but go into the final with his confidence high and his game plan set. The Scot has made his opening statement with yesterday’s aggressive and focused performance and even if he was downplaying the relevance of the win, it ought to give the GB team a considerable psychological edge as the tie begins.
Goffin, too, was trying to gloss over the significance of his thrashing claiming that not only was he exhausted, he knew from the moment he woke up that he was going to lose.
“When you think, well, Andy Murray is waiting for you, then it’s quite complicated,” Goffin said. “As far as I was concerned, I thought this would be my last [tour] match of the season, so it’s really tough to really put all your energy into it.”
That, though, cut little ice with Murray. He is still very much alive in Paris – and should go into today’s quarter-final with Richard Gasquet as odds-on favourite – and he still has the ATP Tour Finals to negotiate before he gets to the Davis Cup final. At the end of a long season, he, too, is tired but no one would guess it by looking at his current form. He said: “The final is only a few weeks away so ideally you want to try to put in a good performance. But winning today doesn’t guarantee anything in a few weeks because it’s completely different circumstances, atmosphere, surface.
“If he was exhausted, he has some time to rest and recover and get ready for it and I should be the one that’s very tired going into the Davis Cup. I’ve still got the Tour Finals to come and I’ve won more matches this year than any other year so physically, by the Davis Cup, I shouldn’t really be feeling perfect.
“But it was great to win today for sure and I definitely wanted to play a good match but I know that in a few weeks it’ll be tougher than that.”
No matter how much rest and practice Goffin gets between now and the opening day of the Davis Cup final on 27 November, it is hard to see how he is going to hurt Murray on any surface. Yesterday, the Belgian could not cope with Murray’s serve or return game and he was coming off second best in all the bits in between. He, like Murray, claims to have learned a lot from yesterday’s match – the two had only played once before and were still unsure of the other’s game style – but what he learned was rather more depressing for his countrymen.
“Andy played unbelievable today,” Goffin said quietly. “I hope he won’t play like this in Belgium.”
As for Murray, he feels he has learned enough to prepare a plan of attack for the Ghent showdown.
“All the matches you play,” he said, “especially against someone you haven’t really played before, it’s not whether you learn something tactically or not, you learn how the ball comes off their racket and the speed of shot that he has and where he’s quick and where he doesn’t move so well or defend as well. To feel his shots in a match situation is good on an indoor court. I know the clay will be different but indoor conditions, they don’t normally change too much.”
What information he gleaned from the 53-minute work-out, he will share with his Davis Cup captain, Leon Smith. On the opening day, Goffin will play Britain’s chosen second-string singles player, whoever that may end up being, and none of the possible contenders has ever played the Belgian No 1 before. But there is no point in Murray trying to spread the word because he does not know the intricacies of his team-mates’ games and, anyway, he plays a different game to them.
As Murray explained: “It’s one of the things about tennis that I might say ‘oh, I found when I played Goffin that this really worked’ but my forehand crosscourt might be much bigger than the guy that I’m telling that to and they aren’t able to hit that same shot so it’s about finding the right game style to play against him – what you are able to do. Everyone’s different. I think that’s where it’s important that Leon or someone who knows them [the other singles players] better comes in.”
But what Murray and Goffin do know for sure is that after yesterday’s one-sided win, it is first blood to Great Britain. And the Davis cup final has not even started yet.
Gasquet, meanwhile, advanced to the last eight when Kei Nishikori of Japan retired while trailing 7-6 (3), 4-1.
“After the first set, I started feeling my abs, side abs,” Nishikori said. “I could not really hit serves, I could not really hit 100 per cent.”
Novak Djokovic, the top seed in Paris, booked his spot in the quarter-finals with a 6-3, 7-5 win over 14th-seeded Gilles Simon that extended the Serb’s unbeaten streak to 19 matches and 26 sets in a row.