On a day when Britain’s Davis Cup team lost both their opening singles rubbers here against Russia in desperately tight five-set matches, it might not have been the best moment for Dan Evans to admit: “I don’t train hard enough and don’t work hard enough.”
Evans’ confession came after the 22-year-old from Birmingham had played some of his best tennis before losing 6-4, 6-7, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 to Dmitry Tursunov in the first encounter of this Europe Africa Zone Group One tie. To compound the home team’s frustration, James Ward then lost 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 8-6 to Evgeny Donskoy, having been up two sets and a break.
Considering that the two home players were attempting to bridge a total gap of 392 places in the world rankings, the fact that Britain ended the first day trailing was no great surprise. Given the manner of their defeats, however, the scoreline was a bitter disappointment.
Leon Smith’s team will be favourites to win today’s doubles – Colin Fleming and Jonny Marray are due to face Igor Kunitsyn and Victor Baluda, though the Russians could call up the experienced Tursunov – but even a victory will leave them with a huge task in tomorrow’s reverse singles. The winners go through to a September play-off for a place in the World Group.
Evans, whose attitude has often been called into question, had been a bold selection by Smith, who preferred the British No 6 to Jamie Baker, who is ranked 90 places higher and has always shown exemplary dedication. Smith reasoned that Evans’ greater flair was more likely to bring the sort of upset that would be needed to win the tie.
Despite his post-match comments, Evans justified his selection with an excellent performance against Tursunov, a ferocious ball-striker with a big serve. The world No 67 stands 6ft 1in tall, while the 5ft 9in Evans even found himself looking up to one of the ballboys. What he lacks in physical presence, however, the world No 325 can compensate for with the deftness of his touch. He has a fine sliced backhand, assured volleys and an innate knowledge of how to build points.
There were several periods where Tursunov appeared to take control only for Evans to fight back. Even in the decider Evans levelled at 2-2 after Tursunov had won the first two games before the Russian went on to claim victory after nearly four hours.
When asked afterwards why he consistently fails to live up to his Davis Cup form, Evans was brutally honest. “It’s because I don’t train hard enough and don’t work hard enough day in and day out,” he said before adding, with only a hint of a smile: “I’m obviously pretty bad at my job.”
He continued: “Obviously I want to push on, but it’s easier said than done. Thousands of people have told me to do it, but I’m yet to do it for a sustained period of time. When I do do it, I obviously play pretty well.”
Ward, the world No 214 and a consistent performer for Britain, struck the ball beautifully against Donskoy, only for the world No 80 to snatch victory on his Davis Cup debut. Donskoy, who took a set off Andy Murray in Indian Wells last month, grew in confidence after retrieving an early break at the start of the third set.
Donskoy twice had to hold serve to stay in the match but at 6-6 in the decider he made the vital break. The 22-year-old went on to secure victory after three hours and 45 minutes, but only after Ward had saved two match points with superb backhand cross-court passing shots. It was a cruel end to a day that had promised much.
Team GB Schedule
* Great Britain 0-1 Russia Yesterday
D Evans lost to D Tursunov
J Ward lost to E Donskoy
Today (from 1pm)
C Fleming & J Marray v I Kunitsyn & V Baluda
Tomorrow (from 1pm)
J Ward v D Tursunov
D Evans v E Donskoy