Five years ago the enviably-gifted Brummie Dan Evans sat in Interview Room Two at the All England Club and pondered his tennis future. As just another unsuccessful Wimbledon wild card he wasn’t even given the platform of the main press conference auditorium.
He had just been handed a lesson in the harsh realities of tennis at Grand Slam level by Nikolay Davydenko, an excellent Russian player but no-one’s idea of a grass court specialist.
The 19-year-old had detained the world No. 11 for less than two hours as his Wimbledon debut ended in a comprehensive 2-6, 3-6, 3-6 drubbing and a verdict of come back when you’re ready sunshine.
Indeed Evans’ presence wouldn’t have registered at all, except in the pages of the local press, had he not come out with one of the quotes of the tournament when asked if he expected himself to have to rely on wild cards for the rest of his tennis career.
His first round loss was worth more than £10,000, perhaps enough to ease some of the financial strain on his electrician father Dave, but hardly a king’s ransom. Indeed the insouciant teenager barely seemed bothered.
“I might not be a tennis player soon, I might be stacking shelves. I haven’t had to think of a career. Tesco are offering, though.”
What he was really saying was that he wouldn’t spend the next decade scrabbling around, relying on the generosity of the All England Club. The implication was clear, if he didn’t make it in tennis, he’d go off and find himself something different to do.Evans was ranked outside the top 300 then.
His next attempt at winning a match at the most famous tournament in the world came in 2011, courtesy of another wild card.
This time he was paired with proficient German pro Florian Mayer. Evans was still ranked outside the top 300 but he made a much better fist of things, stretching the world No. 18 to two tie-breaks and even taking a set off him at 2-0 down.
Evans battled for nearly three hours before class told and Mayer competed a 6-7(5), 6-7(1), 6-3, 4-6 victory. This time the boy from Hall Green walked away with £11,500.
And he was back again on Monday, this time ranked a commendable 144 in the world and paired with Davydenko’s compatriot Andrey Kuznetsov, who is only 30 places higher.
Even though Kuznetsov was winning the 2009 Wimbledon Boys’ title as Evans considered his options of superstardom or supermarkets, there was still huge optimism the British No. 2 would break his Wimbledon duck.
That optimism remained alive and well for 20 minutes as he was blown off court by the rampant Russian, 6-1. Ouch. The second set was marginally better although he was broken in the first game and didn’t manage to pressurise Kuznetsov.
Two sets down we were in Davis Cup heroics territory now. And something seemed to spark, the 24-year-old gave the Court Two crowd reason to believe and while it was nothing like the nationalistic bearpit the Davis Cup can produce, there was at least some momentum.
Evans broke in the fourth game of the third set, staved off a couple of break back points and served and volleyed it out for 2-1.
And he even survived the pressure of having to serve second in the fourth set, six times he levelled the score, sometimes doing so after the disappointment of missing out on break points or letting Kuznetsov escape from 0-30 down.
At this stage there was nothing between the players. Evans’ first-set horror could be dismissed as a bad job as he improved his depth, lambasting himself whenever he fell short, and utilised his slice to Kuznetsov’s backhand to great effect. The inevitable tie-break arrived.
But then came two sloppy service points, which took the Russian to 5-2 and even though Evans saved two match points, the first with an impudent drop shot, he blazed a forehand return out on the third.
The pain was palpable. The entitlement of 2009 was gone and Evans was off the court in almost indecent haste, as though repulsed by having to stay a second longer.
Back in Interview Room Two, scene of his Tesco quip half a decade earlier, the disappointment oozed from his every pore.
He was even asked about his younger self and whether he still felt that if he hadn’t made it by his mid-20s he go off and do something else. “I said that if I wasn’t there or thereabouts,” he responded. “If I was knocking like 280, that sort of ranking, I wouldn’t carry on.
“But I’m beating some good players along the way. I am there or thereabouts. My level is thereabouts. There are still improvements to be made, I’ve got a decent chance still.”
Indeed at 24 he still has time on his side, he has beaten several top 100 players in the last 12 months and also made the third round of the US Open. As long as he continues to work hard that first win at Wimbledon should be just round the corner. Rather like Tesco.