It could be a masterstroke or it could be a gamble that will blow up in his face. On the eve of the biggest match as Britain’s Davis Cup captain, Leon Smith made his most controversial decision when he named Dan Evans to play in this weekend’s World Group semi-final against Australia here at the Emirates Arena.
Concerned by James Ward’s current run of 10 consecutive defeats and an ankle injury suffered by Kyle Edmund, Smith has called up a player whose commitment has sometimes been called into question, who has not competed at tour level for 15 months, who was ranked outside the world’s top 700 fewer than three months ago and is the British No 8.
Evans, who describes himself on his Twitter profile as “here for a good time – not a long time”, will be Britain’s second singles player behind Andy Murray. Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot are the nominated doubles pair, though Andy Murray could yet partner his brother. If there have been questions about Evans’ attitude, his talent has never been in doubt, as he has shown with some fine Davis Cup displays. Smith was also coaching Evans on a temporary basis in 2013 when he beat Bernard Tomic – his opponent on Friday – at the US Open and has been impressed with his work after taking time off to rest a knee injury.
After playing in two minor tournaments in Egypt in May, Evans’ summer schedule saw him compete at some of Britain’s less celebrated tennis outposts: Ilkley, Frinton, Felixstowe. Nevertheless, in winning 29 of his past 33 matches he has returned to No 300 in the world rankings.
“It’s not very pretty playing in Egypt or Wimbledon wild-card qualies,” Evans said. “I’d like to think I’m better than a lot of people playing there. It’s not easy. I’ve come through stronger for that. The hotel in Egypt was fine but the courts were a shambles, shocking.”
Smith phoned Evans on Tuesday to ask him to join up with the British squad and was immediately impressed by what he saw in practice. “He looks sharp,” Smith said. “He’s obviously very much match-fit. He’s played an awful lot of tennis.
“I think also he has a very good game indoors. He obviously has a good record against one of the [Australian] players in particular. I think he can offer something different on the court with his game style. He gives options in game style, tactics. Also during the match he can mix things around.”
To go from playing in a Futures tournament in Nottingham, where he won last week, into a Davis Cup semi-final is clearly a huge leap, but Evans has never lacked self-confidence. “I think once you’ve played at that level it’s always there,” he said.
Andy Murray said he trusted Smith’s judgement. “Dan’s talent has obviously never been in question,” Murray said. “I also think that he has the sort of personality that gets up for big matches and big occasions. Some players can freeze in those situations, but I don’t think that’s in his personality.
“He has a game that is different to the other players on our team. It’s not a style that loads of guys on the tour play nowadays. He’s played against Tomic before and won, and he has a way of playing that will be tricky for Bernard, but Dan obviously has to play a high level of tennis. That’s the reality. We’re playing against top players here and if we want to win we’re all going to have to play extremely well.”
Recalling his win at Flushing Meadows over Tomic, Evans said: “My game matches up pretty well to him, and that’s what I’ve got to try and do on Friday, play that way again. Everyone remembers when they’ve played someone before. That’s always in someone’s head as well.”
Australia made their controversial selections last week by omitting both Nick Kyrgios and John Peers, their highest ranked doubles player. However, they have a versatile squad, with their nominated doubles players, Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Groth, quite capable of stepping into the singles slots, as they did when turning the tie around against Kazakhstan in the quarter-finals.
Although Australia are the second most successful country in Davis Cup history – they have won the competition 28 times, four fewer than the United States – this is their first semi-final since 2006. Britain, who won the last of their nine Davis Cups in 1936, last reached the final in 1978 and were beaten 5-0 by Argentina in their last semi-final appearance in Buenos Aires in 1981.
This weekend’s other semi-final sees Belgium take on Argentina in Brussels. The final will be played from 27-29 November. If Britain beat Australia they would have home advantage against Argentina but would travel to Belgium.
Evans above: Highs and lows
Reached the third round of the 2013 US Open after beating Kei Nishikori and Bernard Tomic.
Has twice won deciding final rubbers in the Davis Cup, against Slovakia and Russia.
Twice had funding stopped by Lawn Tennis Association. On one occasion he was partying at 3am on the day of a junior doubles match at Wimbledon.
Against Russia in Coventry, Evans was asked why he could not repeat his Davis Cup form elsewhere. He admitted that he did not train enough and was “pretty bad at my job.”Reuse content