In recent years, the best he has produced, Dan Evans has grown used to the feeling of being the last Briton standing in a given tournament. He has shot up many times, but on Saturday night his game collapsed before the crowd at John Cain Arena.
Evans’ Australian Open ended in brutal fashion at the hands of an efficient and mature Felix Auger-Aliassime. The ninth seed withstood the early pressure and then shattered Evans late, winning 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 to reach the fourth round in the tournament for the first time.
Evans subsequently noted the quality of Auger-Aliassime’s play but was, as always, honest in his assessment of her performance. “I panicked on the court,” Evans said. “It was total. I missed my chance and panicked a bit and that happens in tennis. I’m not going to sit here and say it was too good. I panicked and felt that.”
Evans had reason to believe that he could engineer a better ending. He has started the year strong, winning his first five matches at the ATP Cup and a semi-final in Sydney. When he and Auger-Aliassime met in the Murray River Open final at Melbourne Park last year, Evans crushed Auger-Aliassime 6-2, 6-3.
After his easy first round victory over David Goffin, Evans’ second round opponent, Arthur Rinderknech, withdrew on the morning of their match. Evans initially thought it was a huge stroke of luck, but the break eventually worked against him, robbing him of his rhythm and leaving him with extra time to overthink his third-round match. I had never experienced this situation in a major.
“I’m not making excuses, but it wasn’t easy to have a walkover and I lost my momentum a little bit and I’ve never had that before, two days off,” he said. “It was tough. I thought a lot about the match and I probably thought about it too much. And to be honest, he was a lot better than me too. But I just didn’t get my game on the court I think.”
The first set played out to an unusual soundtrack, a concert on the grounds of Melbourne Park, with the off-key belts of a cover singer messing up songs by the Beatles and Elton John. “I don’t know what that was, but really, they should have kept it,” Evans said, smiling. “I played better with it on. No, it was probably the best part of the game, hearing that, I think Elton John’s Rocket Man.”
In the early stages, Evans seemed to have settled in well. He attempted to pin Auger-Aliassime on the corner of his backhand with his backhand slice, complicating the Canadian’s attempts to dominate with his inside-out forehand as he looked to expose Auger-Aliassime’s impatience. He was initially successful, giving up early break points at 2-2 and 4-4.
But the 21-year-old is a different player than the youngster who froze on his end a year ago. He is now consistently making deep runs at major events, having reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals and US Open semi-finals at his most recent majors. His experience is growing and he stands at No. 9 in his career after leading Canada to victory at the ATP Cup. “I think I’m more relaxed and more collected and I have more confidence in myself that I can go into the second week, I can go into the quarters or more,” he said.
Under pressure in the first set, Auger-Aliassime served extremely well and directed her forehand with clarity to hold serve twice from break point. Then, at 5-4, Auger-Aliassime hit returns, showed his better shot tolerance by erasing the Brit’s mistakes and reached set point 30-40. Evans responded by lobbing a routine forehand volley into the net. She then double-faulted twice in her first service game of the second set and the momentum changed for good as Auger-Aliassime finished the match with 14 of the last 16 games.
Despite the frustration, Evans closed out his day by emphasizing the positives ahead of a long season to come. “I started the year well, I had some good wins, I had real momentum before the match and a match is a match. I have to forget about it,” he said. “It would be another mistake if I continue to worry about what just happened in that game, so it’s time to put it on hold and move on.”
Meanwhile, second-seeded Daniil Medvedev outclassed Botic van de Zandschlp 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the fourth round. Stefanos Tsitsipas then outlasted the talented Benoît Paire, going 6-3, 7-5, 6-7(2), 6-4.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism