On what proved to be a day of upsets with both the men’s and women’s singles suffering the loss of a favoured title contender, Britain’s Dan Evans fought his way into the fourth round of the US Open for the first time in his career.
I could have lost that match pretty easily and I had a great effort regardless so I’m proud of what I’ve done. Dan Evans
His adversary, the 22-year Aussie Alexei Popyrin should have beaten him — as Evans acknowledged in his post-match interview – having dominated the Briton over the first two sets.
As an exhausted Evans reflected following his excellent 4-6 3-6 6-3 6-4 7-6(1) marathon victory: “I want do well in all the tournaments but at Wimbledon I didn’t play a great match in the third round.
“My focus was really (to reach) the third round here, once I got here it was easy to put in a good performance today. Listen, I could have lost that match pretty easily and I had a great effort regardless so I’m proud of what I’ve done.”
The 31-year-old Brummie had arrived in New York wondering how he would perform considering he had recently recovered from Covid-19 and his results at warm-up events reflected a certain lack of fitness. That seemed to manifest itself in the doubles when, partnering countryman Lloyd Glasspool, he retired with a groin strain.
But his spirit remains undiminished as he proved at Flushing Meadows with what must go down as the comeback of his career as he recovered from two sets down for only the second time in his career to reach the fourth round of a grand slam for a second time.
In contrast Popyrin was devastated.
Having seen Evans establish an early 4-2 lead in the opening set, Popyrin’s powerful game found its rhythm to make inroads into Evan’s game. He took control with his serve and returns and used his big forehand to great effect to win eight of the next nine games and sweep ahead 6-4 4-1 and, a few games later, pocket the set and establish what looked like an inevitable run into the round four.
But Evans, who had only committed three unforced errors in that period, fought his way back into the match breaking Popyrin in the fifth game of the third set with a delightful backhand lob winner.
It was the start of a major comeback as Evans then deployed his greater variety of shot to completely disrupt his young opponent, who now struggled to contain the rampant Brit.
But all credit to Popyrin who hung on in the fifth forcing the match into a final set tie-break to the delight of a raucous crowd enjoying what was proving to be one of the matches of the week producing exciting exchanges from two very contrasting styles of play.
With everything to play for it was vital for a good start in that tie-break and Evans was quick to seize control and dominate his opponent. At 1-1 he produced a backhand smash winner and then followed it with a delicate drop shot winner off a difficult low ball which must have demoralised Popyrin who didn’t win another point to concede the fourth-round place at stake.
Popyrin received a standing ovation but that was of little consolation as he was later to admit he was ‘shattered’ after blowing the match.
“To be honest, where I was the last couple of weeks in terms of my game, I’m happy with the way I performed but the result is going to take time to get over.
“Yeah, shattered. Just pure disappointment that I couldn’t get through.
“My serving was just a bit of a shit show in the third and fourth set.
“If I could have continued that serving in the third and fourth set, I probably would have won.
“My serving let me down.”
In reality, Evans gave Popyrin nothing for the Brit, the world number 27, committed just eight unforced errors all match.
“I give full credit to Dan because he played an unbelievable match and stuck in there,” Popyrin added
“It was anyone’s to take in that fifth set — he’s high on confidence, I’m low on confidence — but I should have done better in the third and fourth sets.
“I had him where I wanted him, but I just couldn’t close it out.”
And he certainly had his chances which the match stats support as he blasted 77 winners to Evans’ 48 and hammered 18 aces to the Englishman’s 6. However, he was also broken five times and threw in 13 double-faults, including one on match point to hand Evans victory.
The battle had lasted a couple of minutes over four hours and Evan’s reward is a meeting with the world number two, Daniil Medvedev, a 6-0 6-4 6-3 winner over Spain’s Pablo Andujar and there is no doubt, he will have to dig deep if he is to continue his run with the Russian who is showing a high level of form.
As Evans said, that is a day or two away: “I won’t think about that too much just yet. I want to lie down. It’s been a difficult day. I’m just happy.”