Roger Federer must be sick to death of Englishmen with stories to tell, the wayward souls who saw the light and through hard work and dedication, earned their right to 15 minutes of fame. Wimbledon is knee-deep in them this week.
First it was Marcus “Willbomb” Willis (dispatched in straight sets on Wednesday by the mighty Swiss) and last night it was the turn of Dan Evans. He, too, was told to take his leave after just the three sets against the seven-time champion but this time he put up a better fight to lose 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
“It was good,” Evans said. “It was a bit surreal actually seeing him down the other end. It was tough to just get used to. It was very different to what I’m used to. It was an amazing experience just to play him. I don’t think I played too bad. I just didn’t serve too well. I enjoyed it.”
The stories of Willis and Evans have their similarities – both were talented youngsters, both lacked the required dedication and work ethic to get them anywhere close to where they belonged in the professional game and both had world rankings in the 700s before the penny dropped and they turned their lives around.
To be fair to Evans, his lowest ebb of No 772 in May last year was due in no small part to a knee injury but, even so, he had spent a lifetime not helping himself. There were occasional glimpses of what he could achieve like his run to the third round of the US Open three years ago, but they would be obscured by long periods of disappointment.
But for the past 18 months Evans has been working his socks off. A year after that dive to the lower reaches of the 700s in the rankings ladder, he broke into the world’s top 100 for the first time in his life. He was about to turn 26 but it was better late than never. This year he has won two titles on the Challenger circuit and reached two more finals and his ranking has raced up to the No 91 mark. After his efforts this week, he should be up to No 72.
Not that any of that mattered a jot against Federer. Evans may have got into Wimbledon by dint of his hard work and career-high ranking but he was now playing the greatest player ever to pick up a racket, and that player was rapidly ushering Evans towards the exit.
Yet the pig-headedness that cost Evans so many lost seasons in his younger years is what makes Evans very much his own man. He was not overawed by the occasion or the opponent, he went for his shots and tried to grab his opportunities.
If Federer’s outing against Willis had a circus feel to it, last night’s encounter was a more serious affair. The crowd could see that the man from Birmingham had plenty of talent – he had the temerity to break the Federer serve in the first set – but the gulf between the two men was simply too great for someone of Evans’ experience to bridge.
Having tried to push Federer during the first set, there was nothing he could do when the world No 3 put his foot on the accelerator and pulled away in the second and third sets. But Evans will be waiting for him if he ever gets another chance to play Federer.
“Obviously everyone dreams of playing Federer on Centre Court,” he said. “Two Brits got a chance this year. Should be inspiration for a lot of people. It’s inspiration to me that I got a chance to play him. I want that again.”