David Goffin strikes a blow for the little guy by beating Marin Cilic in BNP Paribas Open

In the land of giants capable of unleashing thunderous serves that zoom across the court at 135 mph or more, 5-foot-11, 150-pound David Goffin stood tall and proud Thursday after reaching the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.

The role of Goliath was played by 6-6, 196-pound Marin Cilic of Croatia, the 2014 U.S. Open champion renowned for 120-plus mph. serves. David was the aptly named Goffin, a 25-year-old Belgian who has speed, an admirably fluid game and, apparently, no fear.

"I knew that on my serve I had to battle to win every service game, because sometimes he can serve bombs and in 10 seconds can win his games," Goffin said.

Goffin's sound strategy and coolness under pressure were more effective than Cilic's bombs. Goffin saved four set points in the 12th game of the first set, won six of the last seven points in the tiebreaker and rolled past a deflated Cilic in the second set for a 7-6 (4), 6-2 quarterfinal victory at a sun-bathed Stadium 1, a triumph for the little guy if ever there was one.

Triumphs like that are rare in a game increasingly built for players like Cilic, 6-10 John Isner and 6-5 Milos Raonic, who live by the serve but can die by their lack of agility and quickness. World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is 6-2, Andy Murray is 6-3, Roger Federer is 6-1. Budding superstar Alexander Zverev of Germany, who lost to Rafael Nadal in a riveting fourth-round match Wednesday, is 6-6. Teenage U.S. hope Taylor Fritz is 6-4 and might still be growing.

Goffin did pick on someone close to his own size — 6-foot Stan Wawrinka — to triumph in the round of 16, but it's still valid to wonder how Goffin can compete when he's at the back of any line that's done in size order. The question isn't new to him. "I have this question every day," he said, smiling.

On Thursday he was happy to answer it from the winner's perspective while he relaxed and waited to scout his next opponent, the winner of the late quarterfinal match between Raonic and 6-4 Gael Monfils of France.

"You know, it's good in tennis that you don't have to be big or a tall guy to be good. Yeah, otherwise I had no chance to get in the top 20," said Goffin, who is ranked 18th in the world and seeded 15th here. "It's good that in tennis you can find some solution against big players like Marin or Milos or Isner.

"Yeah, maybe I'm quicker. I think I can take the ball earlier than a big guy. Of course I don't have a big serve. I try to find some solution to win against a big server like Marin. I have other weapons. That's why tennis is a nice sport."

Goffin beat Cilic in their only previous meeting, in Davis Cup play earlier this year, but Cilic tried to even things out Thursday by starting with a 134-mph ace to win the first game of the first set. He had a break point in the third game but Goffin held; Goffin later broke for 5-4 but Cilic broke back for 5-5 after Goffin fell in a heap on the court for a few seconds.

Cilic held serve for 6-5 and in the 12th game had set points on Goffin's serve four times. The first time, Cilic hit a backhand wide, the second he hit a backhand into the net. Set point 3 was erased by another wide backhand and the fourth by a forehand he sent into the net.

"I think it was the key of the match to win the first set and be more relaxed in the second to play much better," Goffin said.

He won it in 37 minutes, with service breaks in the sixth and eighth games. "I just played better and better game after game. I put a lot of pressure on his serve in the second, and I think I took the control in the rallies," Goffin said.

"I was much better when during the rallies I was more on my baseline. I wanted to make him run a lot. I think when I had opportunity on his second serve I was really aggressive, so that's why it was a better second set."

All of which means this "little" guy is poised to make an even bigger impact. "The first time I played a quarterfinal in Rome, Andy Murray didn't play and retired, so it was not the real quarterfinal," he said. "This week it's a real semifinal. I beat Stan and Marin. I'm feeling really good."


Twitter: @helenenothelen

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times