Britain moving on up after Evans heroics

 

Who needs Andy Murray? The absence of the world No 4 left Britain's Davis Cup team with an uphill task in their Europe Africa Zone Group One tie against Slovakia, but his replacement, Dan Evans, rose to the challenge for the second time in three days yesterday to secure a memorable victory at Glasgow's Braehead Arena.

Evans, who had lost all four of his previous Davis Cup rubbers before this tie, completed the best weekend of his career by beating Martin Klizan 6-1, 6-1, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 with a performance full of bold attacking play. With the tie level at 2-2 after James Ward's 7-6, 6-1, 6-3 defeat by Lukas Lacko, Evans held his nerve to record his first victory in a five-set match.

It was a remarkable performance by the 21-year-old from Birmingham, who had lost on the two previous occasions when he had played the deciding rubber in a Davis Cup tie. On the evidence of the world No 276's victories over Lacko (No 68) and Klizan (No 120), he should set his goals much higher now.

Britain's captain, Leon Smith, will be thinking similarly. His team, unbeaten in five matches since he took charge, now go into a second-round tie at home to Belgium in April. The winners then will earn a play-off for a place in the elite 16-nation World Group, a prospect that was almost unthinkable two summers ago when Britain beat Turkey to avoid relegation to the Davis Cup's fourth and bottom tier.

Just as he had in beating Lacko, Evans had Klizan on the back foot from the start. The Briton won the first five games without reply and within an hour was two sets up.

Klizan cut a forlorn figure when he smashed his racket in frustration in the second game of the third set, but with the finish line nearing it was Evans who tightened up. Serving at 4-4, he went within five points of victory, but errors crept in. A double fault and netted forehand gave Klizan his first break and the Slovakian served out for the set.

Evans' attitude and commitment have not always matched his undoubted ability in the past, but he never lost his composure despite losing the fourth set in just 26 minutes. A break in the third game of the decider proved crucial and on the first match point Klizan hit a double fault, prompting wild celebrations among the British team.

Asked how he had allowed Klizan to fight his way back into the match, Evans admitted: "I wasn't coming forward as much and he played better. It was a fifth set before I knew it. Leon told me to keep doing what I had been doing and be a bit more aggressive. I got the break and held on."

The tie had gone into a deciding rubber after a much improved display by Lacko against Ward. Nevertheless, the outcome might have been different – and nerves less stretched – had Ward not lost a desperately tight first set when he had a set point in a tie-break that Lacko went on to win 11-9.

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