Madrid Masters 2021: Dan Evans wins first ever match in Madrid in three-set Chardy battle
Evans sits in tough quarter with two former champions, Nadal and Zverev
Briton Dan Evans, sitting at a career-high 26 in the ranks, had only ever played the Madrid Masters once before—a loss in the first round in 2017.
That pretty much summed up the 30-year-old Evans record on clay. He had never won a match at any of the big clay tournaments, not the Rome Masters, nor Monte-Carlo, and not at the French Open. And until the start of this season, the Briton had notched up only four match-wins on the red stuff altogether.
But come 2021, all that changed. Indeed the list of firsts began to stack up with each passing month.
The form and fitness of the single-hander was already on show in late 2020 following the five-plus months’ hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. He reached the semi-finals in both Antwerp and Vienna, then in Melbourne this year, he won a career-first title, the Murray River Open, without dropping a set, and rose inside the top 30.
At the Miami Masters, Evans reached the final in doubles—having never got beyond the second round in any Major or Masters tournament before—but it was in Monte-Carlo, and on a 10-match losing streak on clay courts dating back to 2017, that the Briton made his biggest breakthrough. There, he reached his first ever Masters semi-final, his first time beyond the second round of any Masters tournament.
He had done it the hard way, too, as an unseeded man in a top-flight draw. He beat the 2019 runner-up in his opener, Dusan Lajovic, beat the Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz next, then topped a great week by beating the best in the world, Novak Djokovic. And from a set down, he beat No11 seed David Goffin, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, in two hours 42 minutes.
These back-to-back challenges, along with a final run in doubles too, took their toll, and he lost to eventual champion Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semis, and then a three-hour, 10-minute opener in Barcelona just three days after losing the Monte-Carlo doubles final.
He came to the faster conditions of Madrid not quite high enough to enjoy a seeding, and drawn into perhaps the toughest quarter, the one topped by Rafael Nadal. The other seeds comprised another Madrid champion, Alexander Zverev, plus Miami champion Hurkacz and the formidable teenager Jannik Sinner, who also had a Melbourne title under his belt and a runner-up finish in Miami.
But first, Evans had to negotiate Jeremy Chardy for the third time this year. The experienced Frenchman had won their only previous clay match, but Evans had won their two hard-court contests this season. This was a close one to call.
Chardy drew first blood to break in the sixth game, 4-2, having survived a break point in the previous game. However Evans hit straight back, but came under heavy pressure again at 4-5, serving to save the set. The Briton held on through multiple deuces as Chardy pounded down his pile-driver forehand, and picked off any short balls with alacrity.
But they would head to a tie-break, all square with 39 points, with Evans exhorting himself to “Come on!”
The Briton had to use more guile and variety on serve to stem the heavy Chardy returns, while the Frenchman’s serve was averaging 10kph more. Evans took the first advantage, 3-1 and they changed ends at 4-2. Chardy closed it down to 4-4 with a net finish, but double faulted to give Evans his first set point on serve, and he seized it with a net winner, 7-6(6), after an entertaining hour of tennis.
Evans had made 16 winners for just five unforced errors, and looked full of confidence. However, he could not steal a march in a long fourth game: Chardy held for 2-2. Even so, the Briton was producing some crowd-pleasing shots—two touch winners at the net for a love hold, 4-3. It was that speed to the net that earned him two break points in the next game, but a couple of over-enthusiastic strikes saw them evaporate.
Evans got another break chance, match-point, when Chardy hit long as Evans tumbled to the ground, but the Frenchman regrouped to hold, 5-5.
The Briton wanted to change his racket grip after the fall, but was not allowed until the change of ends. However, he held to love, hustling and chasing and stung into aggressive play. However, it again went to a tie-break, where Evans again gave up an early advantage to change ends all square. Chardy saved match-point with some bold forehand tennis, 6-6, and Evans netted an easy forehand to offer up set point to the Frenchman. He then netted a drop-shot attempt to hand the set to Chardy, 7-6(7), in another hour-plus set.
There were signs, though, that Chardy was starting to fatigue, and Evans broke in the third game, and again to take a 5-2 lead. After two and three-quarter hours, Evans brought up another match-point, on his own serve, but it would take one more before he finally guaranteed that first Madrid win.
He afterwards explained to the Prime team how he had evolved his game to perform so much better on clay:
“I found a medium between being aggressive and standing too far back, and I’m moving a bit better on the clay…
“I played Sardinia [week before Monte-Carlo] as a training week, didn’t head back to the UK, and I lost a tough match [a three-setter against Lorenzo Musetti] but it helped me… I’ve been pretty smart with my schedule, got a good balance.”
That confidence in his own game and how to deploy it has certainly paid dividends, though he should point too to the increased fitness and speed around the court that he has developed over the last 18 months. At 30 years old, he has never looked fitter.
He will need all his athleticism and tactical guile to advance: He could next face a rematch with No12 seed Hurkacz.