Twelve months ago, Daniel Evans was hot property in the tennis world. On the cusp of conquering the top 100 ranking barrier and with a run to the third round of the US Open in his back pocket, Evans’ reputation was on the rise. British fans were particularly excited by a player arguably boasting the most natural ability since a certain Andrew Murray burst onto the scene.
Fast forward eleven months to the start of this year’s Wimbledon and you would have found the Birmingham-born Brit languishing at #752 in the World having played the main draw of just four tournaments in 2015, all on the futures tour, the lowest tour in professional tennis. His results have been sporadic too. One trophy in Egypt was cancelled out by two humiliating first round losses back in January.
Where did it all go wrong for the promising 25-year-old? The reason given for Evans’ disappearance was a troublesome knee, supposedly an ongoing problem since late 2013. Despite not being fully fit, a desire to defend the ranking points gained from his 2013 US Open third round run meant Evans entered qualifying in 2014, falling in the first round to Jimmy Wang.
A second, unsuccessful comeback occurred on the futures tour in January with two opening round losses. This would have wider repercussions though. By partaking in these tournaments, Evans gave up a potential protected ranking–meaning as his ranking tumbled, his only route of return would be to battle through futures events.
Evans has publicly declared his lack of enjoyment on the futures tour, telling the Telegraph’s Heather Hodson, that “When you go down again and you’re still around in the Futures it’s tough. There’s no atmosphere, it’s not the best place to be playing tennis”. After one final, fruitless attempt to qualify for three AEGON Challenger events in the build-up to Wimbledon, Evans has accepted defeat and begrudgingly turned his attention back to futures events.
Since the start of July he has entered three futures events and, seemingly out of nowhere, has managed to win two of them and reached the semifinal of the third. Impressively, the three tournaments have been in consecutive weeks at Frinton, Felixstowe, and Dublin, meaning that Evans has managed to win 13 consecutive matches in the space of just 18 days, an impressive feat at any level.
This string of victories has done wonders for his ranking points, propelling him inside the top 400 in just three weeks, and to within a few points of the top 250 in this year’s race. With only eight ranking points to defend between now and May, Evans looks likely to push on and return to the top 200.
With Evans, however, there is always a seed of doubt. Controversy has never been far from the so-called British ‘bad boy’. Twice he has seen his LTA funding cut, most notably in 2008 when he went clubbing the night before a Wimbledon junior doubles match – which he subsequently lost.
Despite being a peripheral figure in the tennis world this year he has still managed to find trouble, receiving a £350 fine for failing to turn up to a first round match in a 15k futures tournament at Wirral, with no explanation offered for his absence. These persistent controversies have led to frequent, if somewhat unfair, criticism of Evans’ devotion and dedication to tennis, with a few fearing that he does not have the mental toughness to grind his way towards the higher echelons of the men’s game.
Yet it seems foolish to question the mental willingness and dedication of a player who has advanced to the third round of a Grand Slam – beating Kei Nishikori and Bernard Tomic on the way – and who also played a pivotal role in returning Britain to the World Group of the Davis Cup. Evans’ Davis Cup heroics in the deciding rubber against Russia in 2013 were instrumental in assisting Great Britain in getting to where they are today, a fact easily forgotten.
In the first half of 2014 he defeated three separate players from within the top 100, including Philipp Kohlschreiber, proving his talent and capabilities. Now based in Nottingham, Evans needs to build on this recent progression and return to a position where he can challenge these calibre of players once again. There will always be question marks surrounding his ability to sustain himself mentally at the highest level, but the next few months are his opportunity to prove the doubters wrong.