Evans' superb start lifts Britain but Ward slips up

 

It has taken time for Dan Evans to show the maturity to match his undoubted ability, but the 21-year-old from Birmingham produced the finest performance of his career yesterday to give Britain's Davis Cup team a flying start in their Europe Africa Zone Group One tie against Slovakia.

Evans, given his chance because of Andy Murray's unavailability, bridged a gap of 211 places in the world rankings to beat Lukas Lacko 6-3, 7-5, 7-5 at the Braehead Arena in Glasgow. However, with James Ward losing 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 to Martin Klizan in the evening's second rubber, the tie is finely balanced going into today's doubles, in which Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins meet Filip Polasek and Michal Mertinak. The reverse singles will be played tomorrow.

If the 1-1 scoreline after the opening day was no great surprise, few would have predicted that Evans would be the man to put Leon Smith's team on the board. The world No 276 was facing an opponent who played in his first tour final six days ago and reached the third round of last month's Australian Open.

Lacko, however, never got to grips with the clever variations in Evans' game. Using his sliced backhand to good effect and approaching the net with confidence, Evans kept forcing the world No 65 into mistakes. It was not until the third set that the Briton missed a volley, by which time Lacko looked a beaten man.

Although Evans has always been a good shot-maker, his attitude and work ethic have been called into question in the past. At one stage the Lawn Tennis Association withdrew his funding, while his previous Davis Cup record – he had lost all four of his previous rubbers – hardly inspired optimism.

Evans, however, dominated Lacko from the start, breaking serve in the second game and serving out to take the first set. In the second the Briton twice fought back from a break down and in the third he kept his nerve despite letting slip a 3-1 lead. When he served for the match Evans missed an easy volley at 30-30, but then hit three successive unreturned serves to secure victory. "It was obviously the best win of my career," Evans said. "Leon told me to go out and have fun. He probably didn't expect the team to be leading 1-0 after the first singles."

Ward, though, was unable to maintain the home team's momentum against Klizan, ranked 38 places higher than him at No 120 in the world. Ward worked hard to level the match in the second set and made an early break in the fourth, only for Klizan to secure the tie-break 7-3.

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