'Panicked' Dan Evans knocked out of Australian Open by ruthless Felix Auger Aliassime

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Dan Evans of Great Britain looks dejected during his match against Felix Auger-Aliassime - Getty Images
Dan Evans of Great Britain looks dejected during his match against Felix Auger-Aliassime - Getty Images

Dan Evans admitted that “I panicked on the court” as he suffered a crushing defeat in Melbourne. Evans’s third-round exit meant that none of the seven British singles players who started the Australian Open have managed to survive the first week.

After the bubble of excitement that formed around the British game at the end of last year – starting with Emma Raducanu’s New York miracle and continuing with Cameron Norrie’s extraordinary run to the Indian Wells title – the last few days have delivered a disappointing reversion to the mean.

A few years ago, before Andy Murray came to prominence, a blank second week in Melbourne might not have been particularly noteworthy. But with three seeded players on show this time around, plus Murray coming in off the back of a runner-up spot in Sydney, there were reasons for optimism.

Instead, three doubles specialists – Joe Salisbury, Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski, who have all teamed up with overseas partners – are now the only people flying the flag. The seven singles players managed just four victories between them, while the only member of the group to reach the third round – Evans himself – did so as a result of a walkover,

Speaking after his 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 loss to ninth seed Felix Auger Aliassime, Evans said that the cancellation of his second match – which came when France’s Arthur Rinderknech withdrew with a wrist injury – had upset his rhythm. It might sound like a feeble excuse, but then there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that a four-day gap between slam outings can work against players, draining them of their touch and confidence.

“I found out [about Rinderknech’s withdrawal] and was like, ‘Well, this is good,’” Evans said. “And then I had so much time. It's never happened to me before.

“To the top guys, they save their legs,” he added. “But then they have been doing that for years. Whereas I just definitely felt a bit out of sorts on the court. I had not seen any crowds. I had just been around the place and then I walked out and … maybe I made a little mistake there. But that's part of tennis, you’ve got to deal with it.”

Just to add to Evans’s discombobulation, the first set of this match was played with an unexpected soundtrack provided by a nearby concert. Evans aborted his service action more than once as the strains of various warbly anthems drifted over John Cain Arena: Let It Be, We Are The World, Hey Jude.

He even appealed to the umpire to intervene, although he admitted afterwards that the music – which stopped after 40 minutes or so – had coincided with his most competitive tennis. “I played better when it was on,” he joked. “It was probably the best part of the match, listening to Rocket Man by Elton John.”

Evans had come out with a plan to harry Auger Aliassime – who had already scrapped his way through two lengthy matches to reach this stage – and he seemed to be making inroads as he earned a couple of break points in the first set. When they slipped by, though, he quickly became demoralised.

Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime hits a return against Britain's Daniel Evans - AFP
Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime hits a return against Britain's Daniel Evans - AFP

“I missed my chance and I panicked a bit and that happens in tennis,” Evans explained later. “I'm not going to sit here and say he was too good. I panicked and I felt that. So it's just another chance to learn from that situation and next time maybe go out and look at the court before I play.

“I thought I had a good chance to win,” he added, “and that can make people react in funny ways. With the extra days off, I thought about the match quite a lot and, yeah, probably overthought it. I was a little nervous beforehand and when I had the chance I didn't take it.”

Passive and unambitious in his shot selection, Evans hit only ten clean winners in the match. For purposes of comparison, Auger Aliassime racked up 40, including three tone-setting aces from the first three points of the match.

During his typically colourful post-match analysis, Evans described Auger Aliassime – a 21-year-old Canadian – as “a good front-runner”. It was an apt phrase, because once Auger Aliassime gets on top, he becomes as destructive as a fox let loose in a henhouse. British tennis fans may remember his US Open match against Andy Murray in 2020, when he tore a weary Murray to pieces.

As it happens, Murray – who was due to fly home on Saturday night - and Salisbury sat in Evans’s player box throughout this defeat, demonstrating the camaraderie that now runs through British tennis.

“It's a nice gesture that they came out,” said Evans, who explained that he will now travel straight to the Middle-East to prepare for the back-to-back tournaments in Doha and Dubai. “They're probably regretting wasting two hours of their time now.”

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