Paris in the springtime is supposed to be romantic, full of dancing and courtship at the pavement cafes. But not this year – thanks to a Covid curfew of 9pm – and certainly not for Dan Evans, the British No1.
Evans bit back on Friday at a suggestion that he is a frustrated party animal, who would rather be perusing the local nightclubs than practising his forehand. This provocative claim had been made – or rather implied – by the recent US Open champion Dominic Thiem.
“There are guys … for whom life in the bubble is probably an advantage,” Thiem told an interviewer last month, “for example [Dan] Evans or [Alexander] Bublik. They have problems focusing on sport in normal situations. It’s great for them, they concentrate exclusively on tennis, there is nothing else.”
When this comment was put to Evans – who will open his French Open campaign on Sunday – he was indignant. “According to him, I must be out a lot, partying a lot. [But] I’ve done all right outside of the bubble as well. I must have improved a lot inside the bubble for him to say that.”
Asked how different his life would be without the pandemic to restrict his options, Evans replied “Nothing will change much. Some nice dinners, that’s it. I travel with my girlfriend every week. It is not like I am on my own and single, and [I wasn’t] going nuts when there wasn’t bubbles. I don’t know – it is a strange comment, isn’t it?”
Evans’s reputation for hedonism can be partly explained by the one-year ban he served in 2017, after testing positive for cocaine. This mis-step was not entirely out of character. Until that moment, he had been easily distracted – a man who could resist anything but temptation.
But the drugs ban changed him. As soon as Evans returned to the court in 2018, he directed his energies towards one goal – and the result has been a steady climb to his present world ranking of No27. He has switched from chaos to consistency, earning a seeding at five consecutive majors, and recently becoming just the 11th Briton to win an ATP title.
The other side of this story is that Evans has yet to win a match at Roland Garros after four previous attempts. Still, he can take encouragement from arriving in Paris as one of only three men to beat world No1 Novak Djokovic this year – the others being Rafael Nadal and surprise Australian Open semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev.
Evans’s indifferent clay-court record gave no sign of what was coming when he faced Djokovic in the third round of the Monte Carlo Masters, six weeks ago. But he controlled the match with his low, skidding backhand slice, and claimed after his 6-4, 7-5 win that he had been “fired up” by Djokovic’s late arrival in the changing room.
Evans’s opponent will be another Serbian, in world No48 Miomir Kecmanovic. This is probably the best draw he has had at the French Open, after the last two years brought him up against a pair of familiar names in Kei Nishikori and Fernando Verdasco. But he is too seasoned to expect an easy ride. “Before you know it you could be back on the grass if you don’t focus,” said Evans, who turned 31 on Sunday.
A win for Evans would break a grim sequence for British players as a whole, after all six singles entrants to last year’s French Open went out in the first round. Since 2019, when Johanna Konta reached the semi-finals here, Paris has been anything but a rave for our cross-Channel visitors.