By Simon cambers
MELBOURNE, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Five years ago, Dan Evans was considered so bad that he wasn’t even allowed to practise with Australian Bernard Tomic.
On Friday, the 26-year-old Englishman from Birmingham will take on Tomic for a place in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Ranked 51 and set to break into the top 50 for the first time after Melbourne, Evans was slumming it in the 300s when he tried to hit with Tomic in Miami in 2012.
Tomic’s father told Evans he was not good enough to play with his son. Evans did not hold this reproach against Tomic himself, but he used it for inspiration when he beat him at the U.S. Open the following year.
The pair have met once since – when Tomic won their Davis Cup clash in 2015 – and Evans said there was no bad blood between two of the more colourful characters on the men’s tour.
“I’m not going to bother saying anything about that again,” Evans said at Melbourne Park on Wednesday, after his shock win over seventh seed Marin Cilic. “He confronted me about that. We’ll leave it at that.”
Compared to Tomic, whose career has been beset by off-court issues including dangerous driving and resisting arrest in Miami, Evans is well-behaved.
But he has had his share of incidents, losing his Lawn Tennis Association funding twice – once after he was spotted out partying in the early hours before a junior match at Wimbledon – and he makes no secret of the fact that he “enjoys a night out”.
But in the past 18 months, under the tutelage of Mark Hilton, a former British player, Evans has made the most of his talent, surging up the rankings.
A fine mover with a game full of variety, Evans competes as well as anyone and at the U.S. Open last September, he held match point before losing to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka in the third round, a defeat that left him low.
“I still think about that match on the court today,” he said. “It’s not easy when you had the opportunity to sort of close out the big match and then lose,” he said. “Hopefully there will be no more dark times.”
Andy Murray has followed Evans’ rise closely and has been impressed at his dedication, especially when on Davis Cup duty.
“Dan’s obviously someone that for a long time has been talked about as having a lot of potential,” Murray said in Melbourne. “Exactly why it’s happening for him now, he’d be the best person to ask but I know he has a good team around him.
“All of the times I’ve spent around him at Davis Cup and practice sessions, he has practised extremely well. He works hard in practice and he’s naturally a very good athlete as well.
“I’m really happy for him because he’s a nice, nice guy. He’s talented. He does work hard. He competes well. Once you get him on the match court, he competes really hard. He deserves it.”
Having lost his Nike clothing contract at the end of 2016, Evans has been wearing plain white shirts, bought locally in Melbourne at the cost of A$19.99 ($15) piece.
A first time ATP finalist in Sydney earlier this month, on current form, he seems sure to get a contract sooner rather than later but with a guaranteed A$130,000 for reaching round three, he won’t be short of cash if not.
(Reporting by Simon Cambers; Editing by Gareth Jones)