Dan Evans: I want people to remember me winning matches
I want people to remember me winning matches… not for drugs ban, says Dan Evans, the enfant terrible of British tennis
- Dan Evans reviewed his time back after year’s ban for positive cocaine test
- Some shoulder and back problems are likely to see him pack up for this season
- He won’t be one to live like a monk, but greater discipline has brought dividends
Time was when a visit to London for Dan Evans would involve him checking into a five star hotel in Mayfair without so much as a second thought.
On this occasion a brief trip to the capital sees him staying in Croydon, indicative of the more sober approach he is taking to this phase of a decidedly colourful career.
And now we are seated in a coffee shop in Putney, where the one time enfant terrible of British tennis is reviewing his first six months back in the sport after a year’s ban for his positive cocaine test.
Dan Evans reviewed his six months back in tennis after a year’s ban for positive cocaine test
Evans cannot help looking back as well on the years before then, when his philosophy seemed to be that he was in tennis for a good time, not a long time.
‘Some of the things when I did when I was younger, I’m astounded by how I was even classed as a professional,’ he says, half smiling and shaking his head. ‘There was no appreciation for what I had, I was happy-go-lucky, if something bad happens it happens.
‘There was no being careful, but if I look back it was a privileged life, I could fly anywhere I wanted, had plenty of money, and then I basically had a year of s***, watching daytime television.
‘I wouldn’t think twice about spending a grand on staying in a hotel in London, I used to stay at one in Mayfair if I came down, I’ve done stupid things like that. I wouldn’t even bother looking around for anywhere else. Don’t get me wrong, I still like spending money but I’m thinking about those things much more now.’
Some niggling shoulder and back problems are likely to see him pack up for this season. Evans will never be one to live like a monk, but greater self-discipline has brought its dividends.
From a standing start he has won one Challenger title, reached a final, and is back on the verge of the world’s top 200, which he would have breached had ranking points been awarded for his outstanding win over Denis Istomin for GB in the Davis Cup last month.
Some niggling shoulder and back problems are likely to see him pack up for this season
The 28 year-old Midlander only came back in late April, playing the qualifying event of a low-tier event in Glasgow, the day after going through a prolonged mea culpa before a roomful of media.
He still maintains the first six months of the ban were the worst, living at his girlfriend’s apartment in Cheltenham, endless days of boredom and uncertainty leavened only by a few games of golf and the odd trip to the races.
‘After that I don’t buy it any more that the tennis tour hard. I did play a bit of golf, went racing a few times, I went to Cheltenham quite a lot, every meeting apart from the Festival which I can’t stand, it’s too busy. I went to Worcester, Exeter, Stratford.
‘I became really interested in the life of jockeys, how they can ride the horses out so early every day and then race in the afternoon. But it was mainly just to get out of the house.’
The experience has helped fire a motivation centred around becoming remembered for the right reasons. It was only a few months before his enforced career hiatus that he reached the final of the Sydney International and then made the Australian Open fourth round, beating Marin Cilic along the way.
Evans will never be one to live like a monk, but greater discipline has brought dividends
‘When I go to tournaments I still wonder what people are thinking: ‘Is that the guy who got banned?’, that’s only human nature. I’d like people to remember me winning big matches and winning decent tournaments. Before I got banned it was a goal to win a main tour event and I got to a final, but probably people don’t remember that. There’s a lot to be done, I’ll keep plodding along.’
While the self-destruct button has always been close at hand, anyone who knows Evans is familiar with the fact that he possesses a high tennis IQ and is one of the sharpest thinkers about the sport you will come across.
He has needed to be, given a relative lack of height which did not stop him reaching a career high ranking of 41. He seeks to return there under the guidance of experienced, no-nonsense coach David Felgate, who once helped Tim Henman to reach the world’s top ten with a game not entirely dissimilar.
It turns out it was the same Henman, now a senior figure at the All England Club, who gave him early warning that he would not be getting any wildcard favours this summer from Wimbledon.
Evans was forced to go through a pre-qualifying event and was short of puff by the time he made the second round of the main qualifying event. His quest for a place in the tournament proper became a cause celebre in the lead up to The Championships.
From a standing start he has won one Challenger title and is back on verge of world’s top 200
‘I had a conversation with Tim and he said it was just too soon, we can’t go giving out wildcards two months after you’ve come back from a drugs ban. I knew that already. I’d played a lot on the grass and won more than I expected. I was tired by the time I got to the second round of main qualies and lost to a good player. You shouldn’t expect wildcards anyway, and hopefully next year I won’t need one.’
Evans, who is now working under the umbrella of the independent JTC coaching operation, remains one of the few British men capable of playing at elite level. He is also among the more thoughtful, contrary to some perceptions.
Having had a chance to reflect from the outside he is among those who sees little chance of the Lawn Tennis Association’s engineering any major upturn in British fortunes, and is unafraid to say so. The son of an electrician and a nurse, he believes there are too many barriers for young players from a wide variety of backgrounds to negotiate in trying to make the grade.
‘There just aren’t enough tournaments in this country any more, I feel quite strongly about this.
Evans sat down with Sportsmail’s Mike Dickson in a coffee shop in Putney, west London
‘For someone from my background it’s just too expensive unless you are one of those chosen for funding. You could have an eighteen year-old winning a tournament in Europe and he’d still be £400 out of pocket. I still think there’s too much of whether you’re an insider or an outsider.
‘We are going to be losing good players of fifteen or sixteen because you don’t know how they are going to turn out and they haven’t got anywhere to go and play.’
He also sees a surfeit of funding in some areas such as money being spent on sports science before the basics have been mastered.
‘We’ll see how good British tennis is in five years. There’s way too much science. A guy who is ranked 500 doesn’t need a sports analyst, he needs to know how to hit the ball in the court before he gets a sports scientist or a psychologist. It’s astounding where some of the funding goes.
The first six months of the ban were the worst — endless days of boredom and uncertainty
‘The hardest part about tennis is the tennis, playing the game. If the player can’t hit the ball in often enough what’s the point of everything else? We’ve got all these scientists, but we haven’t got enough players, we need ten players between 200 and 400 before we get into all that stuff.’
Evans might play one more event this year, but thinks it more likely he will focus on getting fully prepared for next season, including a stint training in Florida. April in Glasgow seems a long time ago.
‘I would have settled for 200 back then and the goal was to be able to go to Australia in the new year to play there, which I’ll be able to do.’
Evans thinks it likely he will focus on preparing for next season, including training in Florida
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