There have been a lot of smiles on home fans’ faces this week, a rarity in recent years, with the exception of the response to Andy Murray’s outstanding exploits.
The Hollywood-esque story of Marcus Willis dominated most of the headlines as he won seven matches to play Roger Federer but on Thursday it was Dan Evans’ turn to earn a shot at the seven-times champion with a win that was a reminder of a talent that may finally be realised.
Evans’ 7-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over the No30 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov was an outstanding performance, the 26-year-old from Solihull hitting 13 aces, 39 winners and just 14 unforced errors, the kind of numbers of which the world No1 Novak Djokovic would be proud. But it was the way Evans, who has flattered to deceive on many occasions in his career, coped with the big occasion that was so impressive and his reward, if you can call it that, is a place, surely on Centre Court, against Federer.
“There are better rewards,” he said, with a smile. “No, it’s going to be a great experience. Hopefully an even better one than most people think. It’s going to be tough. I’m probably going to go for some pain, running around. But it’s going to be enjoyable. I’ll enjoy every minute of it, to be honest with you, whatever the score.”
For all the fairytale nature of Willis’ performances, the Evans story is also a fascinating one. A Davis Cup hero in 2012, he qualified for the US Open in 2013 and then reached the third round only to almost fall off the planet, to the point that by April last year, he was down at No772, the same ranking held by Willis coming into this week.
In the 13 months since, Evans has rededicated himself to the sport, largely in far-flung cities on the Challenger Tour and Futures Tours, the two lowest rungs of the professional circuit, where prize money is low and ranking points hard-earned. His talent has never been in question but his professionalism had been lacking and at times he has been labelled as the bad boy of British tennis, almost a lost cause. He says he “still likes a night out” but though there was no “lightbulb moment”, something has clearly clicked and he is into the last 32 here for the first time.
“I let a lot of people down,” he admitted. “It was difficult to keep letting those guys down, seeing them disappointed in what I’d been doing. Gradually, [they] sort of got the message through. But it took a few knocks at the door.
“When I was a bit younger, I don’t think I was ready to play professional tennis, maybe. I would say I wasn’t ready for that commitment of day in, day out. It is a grind at times. Now I’m enjoying it. Don’t get me wrong, I do sometimes think: ‘God, it’s another day’ but I’m just trying to stay positive all the time. There have been bad times in the last year as well, where it hasn’t all been plain sailing. You’ve just got to keep going.”
Having resumed at 6-6, he took the first-set tie-break 8-6 when Dolgopolov double-faulted and ran away with it from there. He may have taken time to reach tennis maturity but he is determined to enjoy himself against Federer, having missed out on a US Open meeting with the Swiss when he lost in New York three years ago.
“I genuinely probably didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to play him,” Evans said. “I wasn’t that confident playing Dolgopolov, it’s a tough match. Federer is there in the next round if I beat Dolgopolov. But it’s a big ‘if’. It’s a nice thing to happen after I beat Dolgopolov. It’s another match, like I said. I’m not going to go out there to be just another guy he rolls. I’m going to put up a good fight, hopefully.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010