Dan Evans interview: I always believed I could beat the top guys... now I’m just more confident

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·4-min read
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<p>Dan Evans is relishing the competition on the clay at Roland Garros</p> (Getty Images)

Dan Evans is relishing the competition on the clay at Roland Garros

(Getty Images)

As the tennis calendar moved onto the clay-court segment of the season, Dan Evans would act as if it was something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

In 2021, there has been a notable shift. There was the straight-sets victory over Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo, where he reached the semi-finals, as well as a solid run at the Madrid Open.

It raises the very real prospect of emulating 2004 French Open semi-finalist Tim Henman, a player similarly not naturally at ease on the surface, with a long run at Roland Garros when the tournament gets under way on Sunday.

Evans partially puts his clay renaissance down to new coach Sebastian Prieto, the long-time guide to Juan Martin del Potro, and to the sacrifice of not having been home since the Australian Open in order to better master the surface. And the realisation has come that his mercurial game is adaptable to the clay.

“Moving on it is a pretty big thing – if you can’t move, you can’t play,” he said. “So there’s different ways to slide on the clay and, hearing from people that know how to do it, it does help. I’ve started to feel more comfortable match by match.”

The belief in clay is still a work in progress, unlike his belief in his sense of belonging among the best players, as shown by defeating Djokovic and also in coming so close to beating Roger Federer on his comeback.

“I wouldn’t say I ever didn’t believe I belonged there but it’s not that easy when you’ve got other factors in your life,” he said. “There’s distractions and it needs to be full-time - you have to be there day in, day out.

“I now know I don’t have other thoughts in my head like last Friday you were out and not doing the right things and then you missed practice on Saturday. Confidence comes from doing the right things. I believed I could always beat the top guys but now I just feel more confident.”

It is three-and-a-half years since the British No1 was banned for a year for taking cocaine and his climb back up the rankings has been as impressive as it’s been arduous. That nadir transformed both his life and his tennis, and yet it still does not sit entirely comfortably with him.

“It was an error and it will always sit as an error for me,” he said. “I still wish to this day that it hadn’t happened. It made me better maybe but it caused a lot of embarrassment to my family and that still annoys me.

“It’s good how I’ve reacted and pressed on. I’m proud of my family for being there for me and I guess they’re proud of what I’ve done.”

Getty Images
Getty Images

That Evans has made it to a current ranking of 26th in the world with an ATP title to his name already this year is no mean feat.

There is a belief he could enjoy a long run in Paris next week.

“I go in there hoping I can do well and Monte Carlo has really helped with that belief,” he said. “That showed my game works on this surface and I hope I can get a good start and win some matches and then you never know.

“That’s the plan but I guess it’s the same with you. You plan to write a good article but this one might not come out as good as the others. So, that’s where I’m at right now.”

The question now is how much further Evans can go having made such a gargantuan leap up the world order in recent seasons. For him, the goals are two-fold: another strong run in the Davis Cup and initial ambitions of quarter-final runs at the Grand Slams.

He also wants to give back to the game that, in a sense, rescued him. While he relished the Djokovic and Federer matches personally, he also points to the fact that it gave tennis positive headlines, his main resultant hope being that equates to more people picking up a tennis racket.

And while still only 30 and with plenty of years ahead of him on tour – Federer after all is still playing at 39 – he also aspires to play doubles in his final years with Britain’s latest up-and-coming stars.

More short term is the goal of actually getting home after so long and what he calls the “magical” atmosphere of stepping on court for his first grasscourt match of the summer at Queen’s.

But for now, it is a moment merely in the back of his mind, his feet firmly rooted on clay in a bid to win more than just one match at Roland Garros, his current best record at the tournament.

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