Australian Open: Andy Murray will always be main man says Dan Evans

Dan Evans on his way to victory over American  Mackenzie McDonald in Melbourne
Dan Evans on his way to victory over American Mackenzie McDonald in Melbourne
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He is a little older at 29, a little wiser (possibly) but, basically, he is the same old Dan Evans. And no matter that his life appears to have changed quite dramatically in the past few months, he is not believing a word of it.

From starting last season as the world No 190 as he made his way back from a drugs ban – he tested positive for cocaine in April 2017 – he is now at a career high of No 32, he is seeded at No 30 for the first time in his career at a grand slam and he is the British No 1 by a country mile. But Evans is having none of it.

“I go back to the hotel at night feeling exactly the same and I prepare exactly the same and I feel exactly the same on court,” Evans said of his new, elevated status.

“We all know who the British No 1 is and it is Andy Murray, so there is no title for me. He is the best player, even at the minute when he is injured. That is how it will be. That is how I think about it and, hopefully, he will be back soon.”

That said, in the absence of Murray, Evans was the first Briton to reach the second round of the Australian Open yesterday, fitting in his three hour, 21 minute 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 win over Mackenzie McDonald, the American world No 129, before the rain arrived and ended play on the outside courts for the day.

It was not a pretty match – Evans was ropey and grumpy in the first two sets but managed to get the job done.

He vented his frustration by shouting at his team, grumbling and growling and fiddling and faddling with his game to try and find some inspiration.

As the third set went his way, that flame was ignited and, as McDonald, who is coming back from an horrendous season of hamstring problems in 2019, faded, Evans was on the march.

“I didn’t feel good at all today when I came to the courts,” he said in his own, honest way. “I was a bit sore and stuff. It just happens some days, I probably was a bit flat, but, in the end, I came through.

“I thought he didn’t let me play that good at the start. Also, I knew Mackie hadn’t played a lot of tennis, so that also kept me going.

“I was frustrated that I wasn’t playing my game. I was impatient at the start and trying to come in too early, building no pressure on him, so it was just frustration.

“It felt pretty good to let some of it out. Nothing against anyone who was there watching me, just good to come through.”

Evans had cause to be tired – he played a lot of high-quality, high-pressure tennis during the ATP Cup and has had little by way of respite since. The positive side to that problem is that he knows he is playing well and that he is in good nick, even if Tim Henman told him he could miss a few meals. He is able to grind out the win when he is not feeling great and cause the upset when he is flying.

He will need every ounce of both patience and guile against Yoshihito Nishioka in the next round.

The Japanese also had a good ATP Cup, winning two of his three matches. His loss was to Rafael Nadal, but it was a tight 7-6, 6-4.

Nishioka gets every ball back. And he has beaten Evans twice before, so Britain’s top man knows what to 
expect.

“You saw what happened today,” he said, “I was pretty close to going down, so I’ve just got to stay positive and hopefully win another match.”

Older, wiser and still the same old Evans.