By Phil James
Dan Evans caused the first major upset of this year’s US Open has he brushed aside the eleventh seed from Japan Kei Nishikori.
The perennial under-achiever put on quite a show on court 13 at Flushing Meadows and credited the win to a new attitude and some tactical help from Andy Murray.
Also through to round two is Laura Robson who survived an extremely shaky first set to beat Spaniard Lourdes Dominguez Lino 7-5 6-0.
Robson, the 30th seed, is still recovering from a wrist injury and errors and double faults were rife in the first set from both players.
But Robson was able to break as Lino served for the first set at 5-4, and from there the Brit did not look back, reeling off nine games in a row to beat a player she had lost to on the two occasions they had played.
Evans, the British number three, went a break down in each of the first two sets but recovered it take each by six games to four.
He then saved four break points to avoid a repeat in the third set and then frankly ran away with the set to seal his first ever grand slam win.
Birmingham-born Evans, 23, has shot up the rankings this summer after making the third round at Queens and two North American Challenger finals.
He then came through three rounds of qualifying to make the main draw of the US Open, his first ever Grand Slam appearance outside of two wild card entrants to Wimbledon.
Evan’s fine form has seen him close the gap on James Ward as British number two while rising to a career-high ranking of 179.
While that is up from 367th in March, it still left Evans 167 places below his US Open first round opponent.
Though the man from Japan had not been in the finest form recently, his class seemed to tell early on in the match as he broke Evans early on in the first set.
But the Brit had had his own break chances and at 2-4 down, he reeled off four games in a row to steal the first set.
Evans was brought back to reality as Nishikori broke to start the second set but this time Evans broke back immediately, and then broke again late in the set to take it 6-4.
The two sets lead had been no fluke and by now Evans was out serving, out returning and out game-planning his opponent.
As if to illustrate Evan’s progression and increased control in each set, he was once again in danger of being broken to start the set in the third but this time held by saving four break points.
That hold seemed to break Nishikori’s belief as Evans then broke and held to win the next two games to love.
At 4-2 up, the 11th seed again had a break chance, which could perhaps have turned the tide of the match.
Instead Evans saved the break point and held, leaving his downcast opponent serving to stay in the tournament.
That proved something Nishikori was unable to do as he slipped to 0-40 and then double faulted but that ignominious ending should not detract from a fantastic performance and victory for Evans.
Returned unscathed from crush on Court 13 where @Evo151216 played another magical match, defeats Nishikori in straights. Exceptional result
— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) August 26, 2013
The Brummie lad’s brilliant Davis Cup performances in 2012 and 2013 against Slovakia and Russia respectively had showed what he was capable of, but the doubt has always been about his work ethic and commitment.
However Evans has proven over the past few months in North America what he can achieve when he knuckles down.
“It wasn’t what a professional tennis player should be doing,” Evans told Sky Sports after the match when discussing what his behaviour in previous years.
“Too many nights out and that sort of thing.”
But those days are behind him now Evans insists, and though he is not sleeping too well, he is at least spending his evenings in his room.
However that has not been the only key to his success.
Despite the LTA twice pulling his funding, British tennis now seems to be rallying behind Evans, with Davis Cup captain Leon Smith investing a lot of time in the young man and encouraging others to do the same.
— Laura Robson (@laurarobson5) August 26, 2013
— Colin Fleming (@colin_fleming) August 26, 2013
Colin Fleming was up early this morning to practise with Evans before being courtside for his match, while Andy Murray has been extremely supportive, both publically on twitter and in private about tactics.
“Andy had spoke to me quite a lot about how to play him (Nishikori) and a few things about him and that was in my mind,” Evans explained.
Despite the rise in rankings and public attention, Evans is not getting carried away.
His one aim for the North American swing in the tennis calendar was to make it into the top 200, to “have a one next to my name” as Evans puts it – that was mission accomplished even before his victory today.
“It was nice to get that done before I came here and now anything else is a bonus but I don’t actually know who I play in the next round!”
It will be Bernard Tomic or Albert Ramos.
Another sign of Evan’s new found commitment is his willingness to travel to tournaments away from Britain, allowing him to enter Challenger Series events as opposed to the mainly Futures tournaments of home shores.
He is not only reaping the rewards of this but clearly enjoying being away from the hussle and bussle of the LTA.
“It (US Open) doesn’t really feel like a Grand Slam; at Wimbledon it’s really hectic around the National tennis centre. Here we’ve gone about our own business and no one’s known we’re there. It’s been really nice just to go to practise and do what we want.”