Daniel Evans insists he doesn’t want to be reduced to a figure of fun when he follows in Marcus Willis’s footsteps against Wimbledon legend Roger Federer.
After world number 772 Willis became an overnight sensation with his run through qualifying to a memorable second round defeat against Federer this week, it’s Evans’ turn to take on the Swiss star following a 7-6 (8/6), 6-4, 6-1 victory against Ukrainian 30th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov on Thursday.
Evans, until now known mostly for landing himself in trouble with his off-court antics, will be playing in the All England Club third round for the first time when he faces seven-time Wimbledon champion Federer.
But unlike the permanently grinning Willis, who performed gamely but at times resembled a fan who had somehow found his way onto Centre Court, Evans is treating his opportunity with the utmost seriousness.
“It’s not a day out for me. It’s a good opportunity. It’s not a Lord Mayor’s show, whatever. I’m taking it seriously,” Evans said.
“He’s not a normal guy obviously. It would be stupid to say it’s not a special occasion to play him.
“I just have to prepare myself best and try and put that to the back of my head.
“It’s going to be a great experience. Hopefully an even better one than most people think.”
Evans had beaten Jan-Lennard Struff on Monday to continue a fine year in which he has risen more than 650 places to number 91 in the world rankings.
– Renaissance –
It was Evans’ first win in four attempts at Wimbledon after claiming seven years ago he would be stacking supermarket shelves if he had not cracked it by 25.
That depressing career path appeared to be looming large when, ranked outside the top 700, he was reduced to entering pre-qualifying in an unsuccessful bid to make the Wimbledon main draw last year.
But, now 25, Evans is finally showing signs of maturing enough to fulfil his potential.
“When I was a bit younger, I don’t think I was ready to play professional tennis. I would say I wasn’t ready for that commitment of day in, day out,” he said.
“I let a lot of people down. It was difficult to keep letting those guys down, seeing them disappointed in what I’d been doing.
“Gradually sort of got the message through. But it took a few knocks at the door. It’s a grind at times. Now I’m enjoying it.”
Key to Evans’ renaissance is British Davis Cup captain Leon Smith, who once joked he would have to electronically tag Evans to ensure he didn’t disappear for wild nights out.
“I owe a lot to Leon. He’s always shown good strength of character to back me when a lot of people would have thrown me away,” Evans said.
Asked if he will seek advice from Willis on how to face Federer for the first time, Evans took the opportunity for a friendly jibe at his close friend.
“Are you kidding me? I don’t get a word out of him. He’s a celebrity now,” he laughed.
“I still can’t believe he actually qualified and won a round.
“I’d be hard pushed to find someone that resents him right now. Everyone is so happy for him. He should be dining out on it for a while.”