Poor David Goffin. His boyish mien already screams put-upon outsider and he was further embarrassed here through no fault of his own. The estimable Belgian, riding high still on the adrenalin of having put Novak Djokovic out of the Rolex Masters the day before, was playing a level of tennis good enough to seriously inconvenience Rafael Nadal in the semi-final when a horrendous umpiring mistake wrecked his day, his week and his season.
Nadal, deservedly in the end, went through to his 11th final here, with every prospect of winning an unprecedented 10th title at the same venue when he plays the in-form Albert Ramos-Viñolas, after ripping a final forehand down the line to complete a fine 6-3, 6-1 win over Goffin.
How different it might have been had the chair umpire, Cédric Mourier, not made an unrequested intervention in the sixth game of the first set.
Goffin, a break up and serving at 3-2, was dumbfounded when Mourier got down from his chair and, inspecting the wrong mark in the dust, overruled a legitimate call of out against Nadal. The well-oiled crowd were indignant. Nadal, who was blameless, could do little but hold focus as he broke back and went on to take the set.
Goffin could not take a trick. Serving into the sun to stay in the tournament – in conditions similar to those in which he beat Djokovic – he paused on match point when a twin-prop plane roared rudely overhead. It was not the fly-past Nadal might have hoped for but his closing stroke was an emphatic statement. Goffin, one of the Tour’s gentlemen, refused to shake Mourier’s hand and was applauded from the arena by the crowd.
Nadal, who must clear his head for the final, said of the incident: “At the end it was very significant, but I really cannot know what is going on on the other side of the court. I couldn’t say if the ball was good or not. In the beginning he was dominating all the points. I started to hit stronger and it started to work very well.” As for his final opponent, Nadal added: “Ramos is playing unbelievable, today and before. He’s a top player on clay. It will be a very tough final.” The last time Nadal played a fellow Spanish left-hander in the final here, six years ago, he allowed Fernando Verdasco just a single game.In the first semi-final, Ramos-Viñolas beat Lucas Pouille 6-3, 5-7, 6-1.
Andy Murray’s path to the final in Barcelona next week, meanwhile, was mapped out in the draw. The world No1 has a bye and will then probably have to play Bernard Tomic or Dustin Brown, followed by Guillermo García-López, Albert Montañés or Feliciano López, with Roberto Bautista Agut or Ramos-Viñolas waiting for him in the quarter-finals, Dominic Thiem in the semis and Nadal in the decider.
Boris Becker was on site for Sky in Monte Carlo and said of the out-of-sorts Djokovic, whom he coached until December: “I had a chat with his team last night and what’s in the locker room will stay in the locker room. But I think he’s playing better the past couple of months. I don’t think you can lose your forehand or backhand overnight. It’s mental.
“He can rearrange [the direction of] his ship, he is 29, but he has to do it soon. He’s an emotional guy. In the past, it was in his favour. Now his emotions get hold of him and it makes him play worse. He gets down on himself, the shoulders go down and the opponent is watching.”