By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Dan Evans, urged to “miss a few meals” earlier this month by Britain captain Tim Henman, patted his stomach after completing a brave five-set comeback win over American Mackenzie McDonald to reach the second round of the Australian Open on Monday.
The 30th seed’s fitness was under the spotlight pre-tournament after Henman’s light-hearted jibe but Evans had enough in the tank to overhaul McDonald 3-6 4-6 6-1 6-2 6-3 on Court 14 at Melbourne Park.
It was his first win from two sets down and continues a bright start to the season for the Birmingham 29-year-old who starred for Britain during their run to the quarter-finals of the inaugural ATP Cup earlier this month.
“It was just a bit of a joke to the guys in the corner,” Evans told reporters of the stomach pat.
“It wasn’t that physical of a match to be honest, it was more mental, hanging in there.
“I’m just relieved to have come through.”
Evans has come a long way since his last trip to Melbourne Park a year ago, when he was ranked in the high 100s and had to grind through qualifiers as he worked his way back from a year-long ban for testing positive for cocaine in 2017.
With former world number Andy Murray having to withdraw due to injury, Evans, seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam, bears a bigger weight of expectation from fans in Britain.
Not that he feels particularly special.
“I was basically playing on the rail-track, wasn’t I?” he said of his court, which is near a tram stop and some rail tracks.
“I go back to the hotel at night feeling exactly the same… We all know who the British number one, he’s Andy Murray.
“He’s the best player at the minute even if he’s injured and that’s how it’ll be, that’s how I’ll think of it anyway.”
Henman had suggested Evans could push for a top 20 ranking if he watched his diet.
“I’ve got strong legs and a good set of lungs. Everyone can be in better shape, that’s just normal isn’t it?” added Evans.
“Maybe after this tournament, maybe (I can) take that conversation into a room and see if he has a point or not. But we’ll see.
“I can’t do anything about it now.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)