The US Open was barely two hours old and yet British tennis was already the talk of the tournament. More remarkable still: Andy Murray had not hit a ball in earnest.
As Scotland’s finest prepared for his opening match on Wednesday, Dan Evans and Laura Robson were stealing his thunder.
Evans, particularly, was revelling in his moment in the spotlight, playing the match of his life to defeat Kei Nishikori, the No. 11 seed, to earn himself £34,000 and claim his first ever win at a grand slam tournament. A couple of weeks ago, he was grafting away on the Challenger circuit hoping against hope that he would stand a chance in the qualifying competition in Flushing Meadows; today, after just under two hours of brilliance in the opening round, he is the second round of the US Open.
“It just shows the younger boys that if you get your stuff together and just win some matches, it can go pretty quick,” Evans said. “At the start of the year I was playing Futures. I played a 10‑K in Sweden not so long ago. I guess it’s the way it works sometimes.”
Evans has always had talent but his work ethic and general attitude has, at times, left plenty to be desired. Exasperated by his general behaviour, the LTA have cancelled his funding on more than one occasion but they have always let him back into the fold once he promised to change his ways.
He has repaid their confidence with a decent string of results over the past few months – he reached the final of two Challenger events before coming to New York – and after his win over Nishikori, he was at pains to show his gratitude.
“Everyone at the LTA has shown a lot of belief in me, rightly or wrongly,” Evans said. “So, I’ve got them to thank, as well. It’s not just me who won the match today – I came away with a coach and a fitness trainer. I’ve got them to thank. I wouldn’t be able to pay for that, so those guys paying for that helps a lot. It’s been a very good trip.”
Despite the fact that he was the world No. 179 taking on the world No. 11 seed, Evans showed not a trace of nerves. He was unflustered when he went a break down in the first two sets and then, in the third set, he was in complete control of almost every rally.
He could not have asked for a better performance with which to begin a grand slam challenge. But this, he hopes, is just the beginning.
“It’s definitely a good win,” Evans said. “That was pretty good out there to play so well and against someone so highly ranked. I felt pretty confident all through the week, and that was a good match. “It means more to win the matches than the money. It’s a bonus, the money. But I really want to be top 100, so that’s when the money will start to come in, is when I’m top 100 consistently. It is an added bonus. But it would be a bit strange if I was just thinking about the money after I’ve just beat the 11th seed.”
The win sets up an ‘Ashes’ battle in the second round against Bernard Tomic of Australia, who came through a tough five-setter with Spaniard Albert Ramos 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7/1), 6-3 in three hours and 56 minutes.
Robson has already learned the lesson that consistency is the key to success.
She has always loved playing on the biggest stages against the most glamorous opponents but it was winning the bread-and-butter matches that used to cause her problems.
Yesterday, though, ranked No. 32 in the world and seeded 30th here, she showed that she is ready to pull rank on the lesser lights when necessary as she dismissed Lourdes Dominguez Lino 7-5, 6-0.
There was no sign of the wrist injury that forced her to miss the past three weeks of competition and there was no hint of the frustration she had felt in her previous meeting with the veteran Spaniard. Dominguez Lino can drive any player to distraction with her counter-punching, moon-balling, drop-shotting style. But not yesterday. Not against Robson.
“I really wanted to win today,” Robson said. “I have lost to her twice before. The last time I played her I had match point, so I knew going into it that she was going to be confident because she’s beaten me before.
“I just had to stay focused the whole time and not go for too much in the rallies. I thought going into the match I’d be a little bit rusty, so I’m really happy to get the win today, especially playing as well as I did in the end.”