Injuries can play a defining role in sport, especially tennis, potentially robbing athletes of their prime years; a fact World No. 22 David Goffin would attest to.
The Belgian has had his fair share of injuries in the past; most of them suffered in rather bizarre circumstances. Goffin was at the receiving end of one such injury just last year, which resulted in him missing almost half the season, plummeting him down the ATP rankings.
However, 2019 promises a whole lot for the 28-year-old, who is keen to put the past behind him and focus on having the best season of his career.
Entering the Australian Open, where he had crashed out in the second round last year, Goffin sounded cautiously optimistic of his chances to make a deep run. He put on a sublime display in his opening round match against Christian Garin, dropping just four games en route to a routine thrashing of the Chilean.
Speaking to Sportskeeda in the aftermath of his first-round victory, Goffin revealed that he is peaking - from both a fitness and form perspective.
"It was a really good performance, I'm really happy. I haven't played an official match since September, and just one match in Doha so I needed some confidence. I was feeling good from the first point. Physically too I felt great. It was a hot day, but I didn't feel the heat too much and didn't let that affect me.
"It's always better to play shorter matches at the start. If you play an hour and a half, you don't expend too much energy on the court. It's perfect for the next day, I can work on certain things tomorrow and be ready for the next match. It's the perfect start."
The win is especially sweet considering how few and far between they have been for the World No. 22, whose last victory came way back in September last year, following which he was struck down by the injury bug; one that had refused to spare even the big 4 of men's tennis.
However, while the likes of Federer and Djokovic have been the victim of the occasional injury in the past, Goffin has been especially prone to them, missing large chunks of seasons as a result.
Last year, the Belgian, in a rather bizarre incident, was forced to retire from his semifinal match in Rotterdam against Grigor Dimitrov after being struck flush on the eye by a ball that had ricocheted off of his own racquet. He was forced to miss the next couple of months in order to recuperate.
Prior to that, in the 2017 French Open, he was forced to retire from his third-round match after tripping over the tarpaulin on the edge of the court and turning his ankle.
These haven't been isolated incidents and the Belgian has often missed months on end recovering from minor knocks picked up over the duration of an arduous season.
Goffin is, however, quick to laugh off suggestions that the injuries could have been his own doing, pointing to the fact that a number of top players have all been struck down by injuries in the recent past whilst also attributing a lot of it to bad luck.
"Twice I had bad luck - with my eye and the cover at the French Open. The previous injury was with my elbow and it was perhaps an indication that it was the perfect time to rest.
"In tennis, we have to deal with injuries, it's almost normal. The big 4 have all had their fair share of it too. Andy has the hip problem which is among the worst you can have, Roger had surgery on his knee, Rafa and Novak too have had physical issues in the past, so you have to deal with it, it's not easy.
"When you have to come back it sometimes takes time but if you put lots of energy and work, like I did this winter, it pays off."
The work he has put in certainly looks it like could pay off, with the Belgian looking sharper and fitter than ever entering the 'Happy Slam' which he concedes is his favorite Major aside from the French Open.
"It's probably the most beautiful Slam. I love Paris as well, because I love clay. In Wimbledon, the details and tradition are amazing, but this (AO) is the most modern tournament. Every year there is something new to look forward to.
"This year there are amazing new facilities for the players, including new locker rooms, special restaurants etc. It's not done yet, let's see what they come up with in the next couple of years, but it's going to be huge. I understand why people like this tournament."
Another tournament people enjoy is the Davis Cup, but with the competition set to undergo a major overhaul, it could just lose some of the traditional values that have made it so special over the years.
Goffin is a huge fan of the Davis Cup himself, having led Belgium to the finals on two occasions, but what does he feel about the new format and would it force him to shun the competition entirely?
"We will see. Maybe I will tell you after (if I go). It is something completely different but a 10-day tournament could be a nice show. There will be a great atmosphere with many countries in the same location.
The Belgian could not hide his love for the old format though; one which saw him become the toast of a nation despite his ultimately futile efforts at bringing home the trophy.
"I love the home and away format that we had before; playing in front of your home crowd and away as well was really special. But the top 20 haven't played the last few years and they had to change something. I don't know if this is the solution but we will see.
That's not the only change set to take place in the world of tennis. The ATP recently got itself embroiled in a bit of controversy, with rumours surfacing that top players, including Novak Djokovic, are keen on seeing the back of ATP chief Chris Kermode.
Goffin though concedes that he has no knowledge of the matter and is not in a position to offer his opinion. However, he does admit that Kermode has done a lot for the sport and it would be a shame to see him go.
"I don't have enough information about the case of Chris. I read in the press that Novak and other players don't want to re-elect him, but I don't have any opinion. I have to talk with different players to see how they feel, but for me, Chris did a great job the last few years. Maybe there's something behind the scenes that I don't know."
"Beating Roger Federer is my greatest memory"
While it remains most players' distant dream to notch a win over a member of the big 3, Goffin has beaten not just one, but all three of them. He explains that while each of those wins was special in its own way, the victory over a rampant Federer at the 2017 World Tour Finals in London reserves a special spot in his heart.
"The best win of my career by far was the one against Roger in London. To beat him there in the semifinals when you know it's his main goal - after the Slams - required a huge performance. It's a great memory.
However, the diminutive Belgian admits that Nadal is the toughest opponent he has ever faced, recalling their intense battles in Barcelona, Madrid and Monte Carlo.
"The toughest opponent for me - and anyone - would be Rafa on clay. Physically he's really strong, amazing. I played against him in Madrid, it was a great match, I had a few opportunities because it was in altitude and I served well. We also played in Barcelona last year, but when it comes to the conditions on offer in the French Open and Monte Carlo, he is the toughest opponent to beat."
Despite conquering most of what's been laid out in front of him, ultimate success still eludes Goffin, who has fallen short at the final hurdle on two occasions, losing in the final of the Davis Cup as well as the World Tour Finals.
However, the 28-year-old, instead of being gutted at two heartbreaking defeats, has taken them in his stride, cherishing the fact that he is capable of playing at such a high level.
When asked to pick which performance he holds in higher regard, Goffin hesitates before replying, "They were two completely different tournaments filled with contrasting emotions. Davis Cup you play for your country and your friends. The atmosphere was amazing in France, and the tennis I played was possibly the best of my career.
"However, the ATP Finals was also a special tournament. I lost a match in the group stages and then had to play Roger in the semis. To beat both Roger and Rafa in the same tournament was really special."
While Goffin certainly has fond memories of competing with - and beating - the best, he still has plenty of tennis left in him and with the era of the big 4 slowly but surely coming to an end, 2019 might be the year where he finally gets his moment in the sun.Published 16 Jan 2019, 14:47 IST