For Dan Evans, there have been conquered regrets and hard-earned redemption, but a breakthrough at Wimbledon still remains an elusive reward. The British No 1 drew on every last drop of his strength and stubborn resilience on Centre Court but eventually succumbed to the immense power of his younger opponent, Sebastian Korda, who continues to further his reputation as a genuine contender on his Wimbledon debut.
It is a great shame for Evans, whose occasional hedonism has often cast a shadow over his consistent achievement. Painted as the roguish maverick of British tennis, eschewing polite banalities for prickly purpose, much has always been made of his failed drugs test for cocaine in 2017, but to dwell on those past mistakes is not only unjust but demeaning to the resolution he has shown since.
A first ATP tour title and a victory over Novak Djokovic have seen him rise to No 26 in the world rankings and this promised to be the match that finally ended his third-round curse at Wimbledon, having twice fallen short at this stage before. Instead, the wait will have to go on after a 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4 defeat, but that should come as no disservice to the Briton’s performance. In Korda, the 20-year-old American who has been hailed a future grand slam winner by John McEnroe, Evans’s attrition simply lacked for an answer.
Glimpses of that became clear immediately in the opening set as Korda’s 6ft 5in frame lent itself to a ballistic first serve. Born into a prestigious sporting family, with his sister, Nelly, winning golf’s PGA Championship last month, he met a partisan crowd on Centre Court with nerveless intent. Korda’s style can, at first sight, appear a matter of brute force, but he showed far more nuances, too, with a precise and heavy punching forehand that is disguised by the shortest of backswings and he timed his rushes into the net impeccably and showed a softer touch on his volleys.
Evans’s game is almost a total contrast, defined by consistency, hounding after every last ball, refusing to offer his opponent anything for free. In his first three service games, he lived devoutly by that principle, not conceding a single point. But a rare chink appeared in his armour soon afterwards as Korda’s power built a wave of pressure and forced the Briton into a succession of cheap mistakes. At 0-40, Evans vented his first signs of frustration, roaring in anger towards his box, but the rage did little to stir a comeback as Korda broke with conviction and closed the first set with a whistling smash and a shrug of the shoulders.
At that stage, the reservoir of Evans’s resistance threatened to run dry. But Korda’s urgency to attack soon became a weakness of its own, throwing away points with ambitious forehands, suddenly bereft of his early composure as Evans fought back doggedly. As the momentum slowly turned, and the crowd sensed a rare opportunity, Evans surged into a 0-40 lead on the American’s serve. One terrific chance was spurned, snatching at a passing shot that sailed into the tramline, but Korda’s aggression rendered that futile as a nervous forehand flashed wide to seal the break. Evans grew in confidence, combining ripping low slices with cunning artifice as a streak of drop shots caught his opponent cold at the baseline to square the match at a set apiece.
With so little to separate either player, who’d already revealed their full arsenals, the match almost became a replica unto itself. Evans, having started the set in consummate fashion, lost all his momentum in an instant, the ball becoming a magnet only to the frame of his racquet as Korda seized the opportunity to break. But as soon as the American had his nose in front, Evans rallied again, absorbing all the American’s power and deflecting it in a bullet slice down the line. Soon, more mistakes infiltrated Korda’s forehand and, after a titanic back-and-forth battle at deuce, Evans drew on all his stubborn resilience to break back. Evans clenched his fists and sighed with relief, but the celebrations were short-lived. With his tank almost emptied, in what had rapidly become a war of attrition, Evans succumbed to atrophy first and he surrendered the third set.
It was a pattern that endured, despite Evans digging deep on so many occasions. He broke Korda again in the fourth but, as fatigue set in and his legs became heavy, the weight of the American’s hammering groundstrokes took their toll. He fought to the very end, was roared every step of the way, and demanded no sympathy. He will take no pride in this defeat but it still provided evidence of his true colours: a fighter, right to the bitter end. For that, he was met with a standing ovation.