Dan Evans proved himself Great Britain’s man for the big occasion again when he clinched a remarkable Davis Cup victory over Russia, but he will have no complaints if he is not picked for the next tie in September.
In the absence of Andy Murray, Evans has won three rubbers in as many matches against players ranked much higher than himself, first sealing victory against Slovakia last year and then producing Sunday’s heroics in Coventry.
The 22-year-old was not even picked in the original team for this tie after failing to make progress up the rankings in the last year – something he admits is because he does not train or work hard enough. But captain Leon Smith changed his mind, dropping the unfortunate and always hard-working Jamie Baker to bring in Evans.
Once again the Birmingham player did not let him down, appearing nerveless as he took to the court for the deciding rubber against world No 80 Evgeny Donskoy, a man ranked 245 places higher and regarded as one of tennis’ rising stars.
Evans did not just beat Donskoy, he crushed him, winning 6-4 6-4 6-1, including a run of 11 points in a row to start the third set. The overall victory – Britain’s first from 2-0 down since 1930 – means Smith’s side go forward to a World Group play-off in September with the chance to return to the elite group of 16 nations.
Murray has committed to playing in the tie, which could pit Britain against the likes of Spain, Switzerland, Germany or Australia. That means Smith will have to choose between Evans and James Ward, whose come-from-behind five-set win over Tursunov gave his team-mate the opportunity to clinch the tie.
Smith said: “It’s great and that’s what we want. We want competition for places when Andy’s playing and when Andy’s not playing.”
Evans is currently ranked 324th to Ward’s 217, and he knows he has work to do if he wants to earn Smith’s faith another time.
He said: “Dropping people in any sport is hard and I’m grateful to Leon for having that difficult conversation. This time it worked but next time, if I’m not playing well, then that conversation might come to me and that’s fine.”
It is not for the want of trying by a number of coaches that Evans is still stuck in the lower reaches of professional tennis.
Having a team of people around him keeping him focused on the task in hand brings the best out of the 22-year-old, but if he is to fulfil his considerable talent then the drive must come from within himself.
The British No 6 said: “I’ve got to go into the next tournament positively. I’ve just played two very good matches.
“I do really want to get up the rankings. Everyone can write whatever but that’s my main goal, to get up the rankings and hopefully be number two to Andy. I’ve just got to train harder.
“I do believe on any given day I can beat almost anyone. I do believe in myself and I think that’s half the way there. I do look down the other end (at Donskoy) and think I’ve just won 6-4 6-4 6-1 but he’s going to play Monte Carlo next week and I’m going to practice. That’s where I need to be and that’s where I hope to be.”
Ward, the son of a London taxi driver, ranked his win over Tursunov alongside last year’s first-round victory at Wimbledon over Pablo Andujar as the best of his life.
At that stage he looked to be making good progress towards the top 100 but a broken wrist suffered a week later wrecked his season.
This year has been patchy so far but the 26-year-old heads off for Challenger tournaments in the US towns of Sarasota and Savannah with a spring in his step. He said: “It’s another reminder. It’s not that I didn’t have belief before. It was obviously tough for me, I’ve had six months off.
“The second six months of this year is obviously a good opportunity for me to push on and try to get my ranking up as high as possible.
“But it definitely gives you belief winning a match like that against a guy who’s still a top player. I’m confident and hopefully the next few weeks can be good.”