French Open 2021: Dan Evans makes first-round exit in Paris against rising young Serb Kecmanovic
Evans won first title and made first Masters semi this season, but has yet to win a French Open match
2021 will always go down on the Dan Evans resume as the year that the Briton won, at the age of 30, his first title, at the Murray River Open.
It will go down as the year he reached his first Masters semi-final, and beat world No1 Novak Djokovic into the bargain. And it will mark the season in which Evans’ antipathy to clay was suddenly overcome.
Until Monte-Carlo, Evans had won only four matches on clay in his career, and now, as the No25 seed, he was about to try and win his first match at Roland Garros.
He took on Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic, a man just 21 years old but with his own first title earned last year, on the clay of Kitzbuhel. Now ranked 48, he had picked up some decent wins in Buenos Aires and Belgrade this season, too, so he would certainly not be a walk over.
But Evans got off to a confident and aggressive start, moving the young Serb all over the court, playing his backhand slice, racing in to finish points early, and it earned him two breaks and a 5-0 lead. He had made only five errors as he pressed in the sixth game to break for the set, but Kecmanovic held Evans off to get his first game, 5-1. However, a superb drop shot converted Evans’ set point, 6-1, after a scant half hour.
The second set saw a quick reversal, with the Serb showing his considerable abilities to break in the second game, and apply huge pressure in a long fourth game, too. Evans had to find all his craft and speed to pick up balls at the net and overhead to hold in a fine passage of play from both sides: 3-1.
But he could never make up that lost second game, and Kecmanovic went on to serve out the second set with ease, 6-3.
In the first set, Evans had made 15 winners for just six errors, the Serb only three winners for 12 errors. In the second, it was the opposite. Kecmanovic had made 12 winners and only four errors, and demonstrated an astute assessment of Evans’ game. He played high and hard to the Briton’s single-handed backhand, and passed him with a variety of forehand winners.
The Serb opened the third set in similarly aggressive style, breaking to love and holding for 2-0. Evans became increasingly distracted by noises around the court, and there was certainly plenty of vocal support on Court 6 despite the overall constraints on numbers at Roland Garros this week.
The Briton battled hard in the seventh game, too, but ultimately buckled against the impressive play of the former junior No1. Kecmanovic finally broke Evans again to take the set, 6-3.
Yet another reversal in the fourth set brought the same battling tennis from both men, as rallies and games extended towards two and a half hours. Evans broke but faced multiple deuces and a break point before he consolidated, 2-0.
The lead, though, was short-lived: Kecmanovic slotted a brilliant forehand pass to break back, 2-2, and that was the start of a five-game run, via another break, to serve for the match.
Yet, this topsy-turvy contest continued as Evans broke again, and fought off one match point, but he could not save another. He hit a volley long to concede game, set and match, 6-4, after more than three hours.
Elsewhere in the men’s draw, No11 seed Roberto Bautista Agut beat Mario Vilella Martinez 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, and will next play Henri Laaksonen.
No27 seed Fognini was also safely through, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4, over Gregoire Barrere, while No23 seed Karen Khachanov beat Jiri Vesely, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, and No12 seed Pablo Carreno Busta beat Norbert Gombos, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
The other three Britons in the singles draws, Johanna Konta, Cameron Norrie and Heather Watson, play their first matches on Monday.