Indian Wells 2021: Dan Evans heads home after three-set defeat by Schwartzman

Argentine will next face Casper Ruud as Race for Turin heats up

Dan Evans
Dan Evans (Photo: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships)

Considering that this most high-profile of Masters tournaments began with not a single former men’s champion in his start list, including the marquee names in this sport, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, plus defending champion Dominic Thiem, the 2021 draw has lived up to its many hopes and expectations.

The ‘old guard’ may be missing, but most of the top 10 are age 25 or younger, and a good many of them have been picking up Masters titles in the last two years. Since Thiem broke through in Indian Wells in 2019, nine have been won by men not named Djokovic, Nadal or Federer.

What is more, the likes of top seed Daniil Medvedev and No3 seed Alexander Zverev have won multiple Masters—three and four respectively. The same two have also won the US Open and Olympic gold this summer, while the 22-year-old Casper Ruud has won five titles this season, Stefanos Tsitsipas is up to 52 match-wins, and No4 seed Andrey Rublev up to 47, including two Masters finals already this year.

And all of them have stepped up to the plate in the hot desert conditions in Indian Wells to ensure that the tournament remains wide open—and with it, the race to the end-of-season ATP Finals in Turin.

Of the opening 32 seeds, 27 reached their designated spots in the third round, and two of those who did put out seeds were certainly not out of place in this company.

Kevin Anderson has twice made Major finals and was ranked in the top five just three years ago. Now fighting his way back from knee surgery, he beat the No17 seed Lorenzo Sonego to set a meeting with Gael Monfils.

Then there is three time Major champion, double Olympic champion and former No1 Andy Murray, whose battles through hip surgery are only too familiar, and with groin injury and a Covid infection thrown in for good luck this season. Murray was in typically pugnacious form in beating teenage star and No30 seed, Carlos Alcaraz—and next plays Zverev.

But among the 27 seeds to contest a place among the last 16 were two Britons, No18 seed Dan Evans and No21 seed Cam Norrie.

Both were enjoying ranking highs after winning their career-first titles this season, but now the heat was really on as they faced higher seeds. Norrie would take on No15 seed Roberto Bautista Agut during the early hours in the UK, but Evans got his first appearance on the cavernous Court 1 in the baking midday sun, and against the only other man ranked over 30 to stand shorter than 6ft: No11 seed Diego Schwartzman.

Evans and Schwartzman had played only once before, in Cincinnati a few weeks ago, and it was close affair ultimately won by the Argentine in three sets. Evans was newly back on tour after contracting Covid, so could he reverse the result this time?

There was plenty of variety right from the off, with numerous drop shots getting an airing—as has been the case for many players on these slow but high-bouncing courts.

Come the fourth game, Schwartzman deployed a special one, and went on to break, 3-1, and the Argentine was beginning to give the single-handed backhand of Evans a real work-out.

But gradually, Evans began to find his rhythm, and measure the pace of the court and of his opponent better. He broke back with some deft changes of spin and direction, then held with ease for 5-5 with a run of 10 points in 12. The sliced backhand in particular was drawing more errors from the Argentine, and Schwartzman drew increasingly frustrated—and that produced more errors.

Evans was working well in defence, too, running short balls down and making a couple of fine running passes down the lines. He earned three break chances in the 11th game, only for Schwartzman to regroup, pick off a superb smash, then a volley winner, for deuce.

But for all his deft work at the net, the Argentine was fighting off an inspired Evans, who brought up a fifth break chance. This time he converted: He would serve for the set.

And he did so in some style, 7-5, in just over the hour, leaving Schwartzman looking disgruntled, hands on hips, not sure what had gone wrong. Whatever it was, it produced 22 unforced errors, while Evans was patient, smart and accurate, turning defence into attack at just the right moment.

The second set was soon following the same pattern, with a sequence of precision returns of serve drawing errors and a break for Evans in the first game.

The Briton had to save break points in the next game, but continued to be patient, play plenty of low balls, and hold for 2-0.

Now, though, the Argentine got a second wind, refocused and was more energized. He upped the tempo and attacked the net to great effect, then fended off another break threat to stay in touch, 2-3. Evans would have to keep his wits about him.

That became vital in the next game, with Evans fluffing two straight forehands and then a volley, but he stuck to his guns, took to the net, kept plying the sliced backhands, and overturned break points to hold, 4-2.

However, Schwartzman had his tail up, and he broke at the next opportunity for 4-4, and then took to the net to fend off two break-back points. Evans would this time have to serve to save the set, but this time, Schwartzman could not miss. He broke, 6-4, and looked the faster and more pumped of the two men.

By the time he opened up a 3-0 lead in the decider, Schwartzman had made just one unforced error. Evans, meanwhile, was looking fatigued, perhaps still carrying the after-effects of his summer Covid infection, and by the time he served at 0-5 down, he looked a shadow of his former self.

The end when it came was fast and clean, 6-0, after two hours 20 minutes, and Evans later pinpointed that break back in the second set as his downfall: “I played some good tennis up until 4-3 really, and I sort of blew that game pretty badly.”

So the seedings continued to hold true, with Schwartzman going on to meet No6 seed Ruud, who was kept on court for almost three hours by Lloyd Harris.

It marked Ruud’s 49th match-win of the year, and he continues his rise in the ranks, possibly to No9 by next week. Of more immediate interest, though, he maintains his place among the elite eight targeting the ATP Finals in November.

Four of those Turin places are already set: Djokovic, Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Zverev. However, there are a dozen or so who can still take one of the four remaining places, plus two more reserve slots.

Later on Court 1, No23 seed Grigor Dimitrov did reverse the seedings to beat No16 seed Reilly Opelka, 6-3, 6-4. The Bulgarian made 18 winners for just four errors, and 10/11 at the net in a strong 73-minute victory.

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