The two players were due to compete in the third round here last year before Murray withdrew due to fatigue. Their last meeting took place on the clay in a memorable encounter, where Murray secured the Davis Cup title for Great Britain after defeating the Belgian in straight sets 6-3, 7-7, 6-3.
Brilliant first set from the Brit
The Belgian came flying out of the blocks, hitting a couple of winners with an aggressive style of play to catch the world number three off guard as he broke his serve to love. After this early wake-up the call, the Brit was stung into action, rifling a backhand winner past an oncoming Goffin to get to break back point. A return winner off of the second serve was all that was required for Murray to get the break back.
Those couple of shots were the first of a 12 point streak for Murray, as the Brit raced in front, taking a 4-1 lead in the opening set. Things got even better for the second seed as he continued to force the Belgian into making errors as he secured a double break to extend his lead. Last week’s runner-up in Madrid had no trouble in closing out the first set, forcing Goffin into making another error to seal it 6-1.
Hotly contested second set
After a couple of confidence-boosting holds at the start of the second set, Goffin began to make inroads into the Brit’s service game at 15-30. Murray recovered to game point, but a lack of first serves followed by a cross court forehand which went just an inch wide of the sideline gave the Belgian a break point opportunity. The 12th seed missed the first chance but was able to capitalize on Murray’s errors to take the second and lead 3-1.
The world number three responded with sheer will and determination in his attempts to break straight back, racing to a 15-40 advantage. But the Belgian resisted, putting away a volley at the net before ripping a forehand winner down the line. A game point then passed him by before Murray got his reward, forcing the error from his opponent to get the break back.
Back and forth with breaks of serve
The momentum was with Murray fully at this stage, holding comprehensively, before breaking the Belgian for the fifth time in the match. In the eighth game, Goffin punished a weak second serve, pummeled a winner down the line and forced the Brit into a double fault to earn two break back points. The world number three saved the first with an ace, but then double faulted once again to find himself pegged back at 4 games all.
The second seed got over that disappointment in double quick time, hitting controlled forehand winners and forcing the Belgian into uncomfortable areas at the net to break Goffin to love.
The 12th seed was far from finished in this quarterfinal match though. After working hard to win a couple of extended rallies, the Belgian found a moment of inspiration as he hit a running forehand cross-court pass winner to break back once again to make it all square at 5-5.
In the eleventh game, which lasted a mere 9 minutes and 25 seconds, Murray inflicted yet more misery and frustration on his opponent. After working so hard to get back into the match, Goffin saved four break points and had a few chances to hold of his own. However it was the world number three who eventually prevailed in terribly windy conditions to break serve once again.
Murray made no mistake on this occasion, closing out the match in style to complete a 6-1, 7-5 victory in 1 hour and 34 minutes. It is the first time in the Brit’s career that he has reached the semifinals of all three clay court Masters 1000 events in the same season. Next up for the world number three, lucky loser Lucas Pouille, who earlier advanced courtesy of a walkover against opponent Juan Monaco.
The second seed eases into match
Unlike the opening service game of his campaign in Madrid against Radek Stepanek, Murray held here to open proceedings. The world number three came out with a clear game plan to feel his way into the match and get used to the breezy conditions by playing defensively, asking questions of the Kazakhstani’s game. This tactic brought up two break point chances, but the qualifier thwarted his opponent with a couple of sweetly struck forehand winners, inspiring him to go on and secure the hold.
Kukushkin had openings in both of the Brit’s next service games at 15-30 and 0-30, but Murray, who announced the split from his coach Amelie Mauresmo on Monday, was able to respond with a series of well-executed points to remain in front at 3-2.
After holding serve to love for the first time in the seventh game, Murray motored on and capitalized on a dip in Kukushkin’s level. The qualifier squandered a couple of chances to hold before the Brit found a timely combination of superb defense and crushing cross court forehand’s to secure the first break of the match.
The world number three was under pressure when serving for the opening set, down 15-30 for the third time on serve. However, once again the second seed would not face a break point as he wrapped up the set 6-3 in 44 minutes.
Murray marches on
After both players held serve comfortably to open proceedings in set number two, it was Murray who made an important breakthrough in the third game. An extended rally which finished with an unfortunate net cord going wide for Kukushkin secured the break for the second seed.
In the sixth game, a double fault from Murray gifted the qualifier, who had played three matches already here, two break points. The runner-up in Madrid last week found his ‘must not lose’ mentality in the next couple of points to find first serves when it mattered most to save the opportunities and hold for a 4-2 lead.
After holding to love in the eighth game Murray was eager to break the man from Kazakhstan’s serve. A backhand down the line winner off the return of serve helped set up the match point opportunity, which he took on the first chance after forcing the qualifier to net the backhand. A straight sets win for Murray 6-3, 6-3, he will go on to face the winner of the match between Roberto Bautista-Agut and Jeremy Chardy in round three.