And although it had been the name of 21-year-old Kyle Edmund, who played so well in his debut against David Goffin in last November’s final, who was listed on the Davis Cup’s team site, it would be replaced by Daniel Evans’ name by the time the teams congregated for the draw.
In fairness, the clues were there already. Edmund had looked less that comfortable in practice, and sure enough, during the GB team session on Thursday morning, it was Evans who worked up a sweat against Andy Murray and not Edmund.
Leon Smith confirmed the news:
“Obviously you heard that Kyle picked up an injury during Wednesday’s practice, so we stopped immediately to try and give it as much time to settle down as possible. It was better this morning, but like a lot of these injuries, it felt like a bit of a race against time, and therefore it was a risk to him and to the team not to be able to complete matches.
“We’ve got Dan now in the team who’s fully fit, plays well indoors, good Davis Cup experience and ready to go.”
But the late switch should be neither a worry nor a surprise, for a couple of very good reasons.
Smith had included Evans in his original squad, a fifth man—and a man who happens to be born, and to live, in Birmingham, where this rousing Round 1 begins on Friday.
Evans admitted: “Obviously I’m proud to be playing in front of a Birmingham crowd, and hopefully they make a lot of noise and have a good day’s tennis.”
But then Evans is also the only one in the squad with experience against both the nominated Japanese singles players, world No6 Kei Nishikori and No87 Taro Daniel, a tall, 23-year-old with an American father and a training background in Spain. The Brit beat Nishikori in the first round of the US Open in 2013—their only meeting—and more recently scored a couple of Challenger victories over Daniel.
Smith admitted this was a great asset:
“It’s obviously a positive that [Dan] has wins against them, but those players are different now, as is Dan: different situations, different environments. But Dan was in the squad in the first place because he’s playing well, he’s on the way up again, which is really positive… I’ve got every confidence that Dan can go in and play very, very well this weekend.”
Certainly Evans had struggled with his form at the start of last year. When he played in the Davis Cup semi tie against Australia, he had just risen from outside 700 to inside 300, and took Bernard Tomic to four tough sets.
Now, Evans is at 157 via some great runs in Futures and Challengers, and has the kind of game and skill to disrupt the opposition, as Daniel explained:
“Well [Evans] still has this classic English style tennis, which is a lot of clean slices, good serve, good volleys, which in modern tennis, it’s not very common. But he also has a lot of power on the forehand, he doesn’t give you much rhythm, which is good and bad. At the same time, he can be erratic sometimes, which is good for you, but you never know how he’s going to come out. That’s what’s dangerous about him. I’ve had really tough matches with him.”
However, it will be Murray who opens proceedings against Daniel tomorrow, and despite his month away from competition to support his wife and new baby daughter, he will be the hot favourite to take a one rubber lead.
Murray has answered enough questions about fatherhood since coming to Birmingham to write a book, but he is, it appears, more than happy to share every minute.
He is happy to make earlier starts to the day, happy to share nappie-changing duties, happy simply to watch the speed at which three-week-old Sophia is changing.
This, though, is his first time away, and while he clearly enjoys the camaraderie of team tennis, there is also a small hole:
“Obviously this week, I haven’t seen [Sophia] for a few days so that’s been tough, but I’m just trying to keep my focus when I’m on court on my tennis, and then when I’m away from the court, my thoughts are back home.”
He has revealed that, come the Miami Masters, where he has a training base, he hopes to be travelling ‘en famille’, and without a nanny—though watch this space as the practicalities hit home. But getting back into the competitive groove just a 100 miles or so from home is as good a way as any to make a start.
Friday 4 March: 1pm
R1 Andy Murray vs Taro Daniel
R2 Dan Evans vs Kei Nishikori
Saturday 5 March: 2pm
R3 Dom Inglot/Jamie Murray vs Kei Nishikori/Yasutaka Uchiyama
Sunday 6 March: 1pm
R4 Andy Murray vs Kei Nishikori
R5 Dan Evans vs Taro Daniel
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