Teenage Birmingham firebrand Dan Evans bids to equal his best ever showing at a junior Grand Slam when he takes on Australian Dane Proppogia in round three of the Wimbledon boys singles championships.
The 18-year-old came back from the dead to take a tortuous three-set match against Frenchman Guillaume Rufin yesterday to earn himself a chance to emulate his achievement at the Australian Open in January.
The youngster from Hall Green, who is coached by Paul Annacone, looked to be heading out of the tournament at one stage when, having won the first set on a tie-break, he switched off and lost the second 6-1 in a mere 25 minutes. When he was broken at the start of the decider and trailed 4-2 things looked bleak for Evans, only for the Frenchman to stutter.
“I told myself it could have easily turned round for me in the third, the way it did for him in the second,” Evans said. “I knew I would get a chance to break if I kept hold of him.”
That chance came in the eighth game when he forced a break point with a drop shot and then forced Rufin, the junior player by three days but considerably bigger than Evans, to go long with a backhand.
Evans held his nerve for 5-4 and then accepted his first match point when a heavily sliced backhand forced his opponent to net.
Yesterday’s win, and another today, would be something of a redemption for Evans who first came to national attention at Queen’s Club last month after being given a wild card into the main draw.
Playing the biggest match of his life, on terrestrial television, he lost horribly, 6-1, 6-1, to former Wimbledon semi-finalist Xavier Malisse and was not only condemned for failing to put up a better challenge but for his behaviour in drawing a code violation for hitting a ball into the stands after losing his serve.
He was back at it again yesterday. With Rufin in the ascendancy, Evans was officially warned for the same offence in the first game of the third set. Earlier on he upbraided a line judge for foot-faulting him in the tie-break and seconds later even became involved with a spectator who disrupted his rhythm.
“There was a drunk French guy clapping between first and second serves. I knew he was drunk, he had a beer in his hand and later when I went to the toilet [after the first set] he could hardly walk. As long as he was having a good day I was having a good day I’m happy for him,” Evans said. “It’s just me, some people are relaxed and I am intense. It’s my personality. I don’t see it as a problem unless it affects your game. At 5-3 in the first set tie-break when I got called for that foot fault, I went mad but on the next point I was back on it and I won the set. That’s how I deal with things.”
Evans received a considerable amount of negative publicity after the Malisse episode, some of which stung, but he is unapologetic and points to the fact he took world No 104 Guillermo Garcia Lopez to three sets in qualifying for Nottingham. Evans had a chance to win that match in the second while the Spaniard went on to reach the third round in the men’s singles here.
“The better you get the more people have to say about you,” he said. “I am not bothered what people write. One day I am sure if I am good enough they will want a few things done and I won’t be helping them out in the near future.
“People don’t really know me or how I am. I guess it’s their job to make a story. They had someone who is 18 who doesn’t do a lot of press and they slaughtered him. It’s not something your mum wants to see in every paper she opens the next morning.
“It’s not something I want to see when I am on the train home and I see someone with a paper and my face looking out. I guess that’s what comes with being a good tennis player.”
And Evans is good, comparatively. Ranked as the 50th best junior in the world by the International Tennis Federation, he has been as high as tenth, he has excellent court coverage, a good serve and is unusually comfortable at the net. What was surprising was the way he was able to go toe-to-toe with Rufin despite conceding several inches in height.
That innate power gives him confidence that no matter what happens today, he will one day make the step up to the men’s senior circuit.
“It’s just another tennis ball to be hit,” he said. ”It’s exactly the same as juniors. You have to concentrate better and I find that hard.
“Ever since I was young, I like to look around. I don’t like to do one thing for a long period. It’s not a problem as long as I am in the point when it starts.” Which he was for most of yesterday and must be for all of today.
There was also British success in the girls event, with 14-year-old starlet Laura Robson knocking out American top seed Melanie Oudin to reach the third round. Melbourne-born Robson, who now lives five minutes away from the All England Club, lost to the American in the final at Roehampton last week but claimed a 6-3, 6-1 victory yesterday.