DAN EVANS wore Scotland colours as he recorded the biggest win of his life yesterday but he could hardly have endeared himself any further to the Braehead Arena crowd had he opted to top off his outfit with a kilt and a 'see you Jimmy' wig.
The 21-year-old from Birmingham has had a couple of abortive attempts to launch his career thwarted by his off-court misdemeanours but the world No.276's star was undeniably in the ascendancy last night after he ignited Great Britain's hopes of beating Slovakia in their Europe/Africa Zone Group 1 Davis Cup tie with a comprehensive 6-3, 7-5, 7-5 win over the much-vaunted Lukas Lacko.
It was a stunning win and one which looked even more critical when James Ward, the auxiliary No.1 in the absence of Andy Murray from this Great Britain side, was unable to prevent Martin Klizan from levelling matters ahead of today's doubles.
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The 24-year-old Lacko had come into this event in the best form of his life, having climbed to No.65 in the rankings on the back of a storming run in the Australian Open and his first ATP tour final in Zagreb last week. But he was to discover that Evans is a different proposition these days from the teenage tearaway who temporarily lost his LTA funding after he visited a nightclub hours before a boys' singles match at Wimbledon, and was questioned about an alleged sexual assault outside another club in Bath in 2010.
At his fifth attempt, Evans' victory was the first in a Davis Cup rubber for a man who has yet to record his maiden win in an ATP tour event, and on paper was only Britain's fifth-best player. Quite simply, he wouldn't even have featured in the tie had Murray participated instead of starting a new training block with coach Ivan Lendl out in Miami.
The player last night paid tribute to Julien Hoferlin, his new Belgian coach, some calm words in his ear from the team's Glasgow-born captain Leon Smith, and a recent run of results in Sheffield and Zagreb which allowed the 5ft 9in player to stand tall against an opponent of far greater stature. "It was the best win of my career so far," Evans said. "In the last few ties I have felt pretty small on the court, but even at the start when we were stood there, waiting to go out, I felt like I could hold my own on the court. It might sound stupid but before I felt like a bit of a boy.
"To beat him in three straight sets wasn't what I thought was going to happen if I did win. I was nervous at the start, but I played well, got on top and played good tennis."
A shell-shocked Lacko said he was perhaps a little "tired in the head" after his exertions of the last month, and bemoaned his inability to take the chances which came his way. "I was not surprised with his game," Lacko said. "I expected him to play a defensive backhand slice and play variable with his forehand – but what I was surprised about was my game, that I was not able to get my rhythm."
Rather bizarrely, the pair had actually met previously in Scotland, Lacko winning a futures event three years ago, but from the moment Evans broke the Slovakian's serve in the second game, the underdog's tactics were spot on. Having survived a break point to serve out for the first set, all the 21-year-old's street smarts were in evidence as he twice broke back immediately after surrendering his own serve en route to taking the second 7-5. The final set was secured by the same scoreline despite a potentially calamitous loss of serve in the sixth game.
The meeting of Ward, the world No.158, with Klizan, No.120, always seemed an evenly-matched affair and so it proved. The 25-year-old Londoner had won seven of his previous nine singles rubbers in this competition but you sensed things weren't going well when he smashed his racquet off the surface midway through the second set. He recovered his poise to level the match at one set all, only for the big-serving Slovakian left-hander to clinch a fourth set tie-break and emerge the stronger in an attritional contest by an eventual 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3) score.
It was a disappointing conclusion, but this was a good day for the British team. Today it is over to Scotland's Colin Fleming and his doubles partner Ross Hutchins. "I would definitely have taken 1-1 at the end of the day," Smith said afterwards. "If you look at both match-ups on paper, we weren't expected to win them."
It was a particularly good day for Evans, who joined Murray, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski in the select band of British men to have won a singles rubber at Group One level or above since 1997.