Great Britain are hoping Tim Henman will prove to be their secret weapon in this weekend’s Davis Cup quarter-final against France in Rouen.
Henman has been offering advice to Dan Evans, Britain’s No 1 in the absence of Andy Murray, as he attempts to find his feet on clay. Evans avoided the surface altogether during his stellar rise up the rankings last year and his only tour-level win on the red stuff came in a Davis Cup dead rubber in Croatia in 2013.
Evans’ game, with his single-handed backhand and preference for slice, is far more suited to grass and other fast surfaces than slow, heavy clay. The same was true of Henman but, at 29, he produced the most remarkable result of his career by reaching the 2004 French Open semi-finals.
GB Captain Leon Smith said: “We’ve had some really good conversations with Henners. We have watched some footage because I know that Evo can relate to the way that Henners played a lot and respects him a huge amount. And Henners gave some really good insight to the mindset and the strategies needed when you have that sort of game.
“We spoke to Paul Annacone as well, who was working with Henners at the time and knows Evo’s game really well. It is normal to reach out to a lot of people, but in this case it is particularly relevant and it has been really useful.
“Evo is doing very, very well and one of the main reasons is that he plays a bit differently. That’s really important, to have that asset on any surface. Clay is no different.”
Evans has broken into the world’s top 50 this year on the back of a first ATP Tour final in Sydney and a run to the fourth round of the Australian Open.
He feels positivity will be the key, saying: “It’s been good fun. The coaching staff have been helping me to keep playing the way I play on the hard court – I am just trying to be aggressive still and not fall into the trap of being too defensive.
“I have got to keep going forwards like I normally do and hopefully that is how I will play at the weekend.”
In contrast, Kyle Edmund, the British No 2 for the tie, has had some of his best results on clay, not least in the Davis Cup quarter-finals last year, when he won both his rubbers against Serbia in Belgrade.
This will be a considerably tougher task, although France, too, are weakened by the absence of the injured Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert as well as new father Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Such is their strength in depth they can still call on a top-20 player in Lucas Pouille, while captain Yannick Noah sprang a surprise yesterday by substituting Jeremy Chardy for the higher-ranked Gilles Simon.
Murray is back home recovering from an elbow injury and Smith is not expecting him to travel in a supporting capacity, as he did for the tie in Serbia. The Scot has played just one of the last four ties, with the team of Evans, Edmund, Jamie Murray and Dom Inglot beating Canada in the first round in Ottawa two months ago.
Smith said: “We’ve had a lot of ties where he’s not been around. We obviously miss him a lot, on and off the court. He’s the world’s No 1 player. He’s a huge part of what we’ve done. But the four guys here, they’ve played so many ties now, they’re really experienced. Does it make it more difficult? Of course it does. But we have a really strong team, a team that is used to winning a lot.”
The draw for the tie takes place today with the opening singles matches tomorrow afternoon.