Charged with the task of facing the best tennis player in the world on the largest stage in the sport, Dan Evans did all that he could. He irritated Carlos Alcaraz with his wicked, searing slice, he attacked ceaselessly with his forehand and he swept forward to the net.
For all his variety and positive intentions, though, he could only momentarily slow Alcaraz down. Forced to a fourth set, Alcaraz, the top seed and defending champion, responded to Evans’s challenge on Arthur Ashe Stadium by elevating his own level and moving into the fourth round of the US Open with a strong 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win.
After the highs of the first week, as numerous British players scored important wins, Saturdayyesterday saw mixed results for the remaining contingent in New York. Jack Draper took another great step towards realising his immense potential after so many injuries as the 21-year-old reached the fourth round of a grand slam for the first time in his young career, holding his nerve in the final stages to defeat Michael Mmoh of the United States 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
”I’m very proud of myself, and that’s a testament to the work I’ve put in as well,” said Draper. “It’s not been easy for me the last sort of year or two with the injury struggles I’ve had. I come into each tournament thinking, ‘Oh, am I going to hold up this week?’ Five sets is a bit different, and to do it at this level, I’m very pleased.”
Cameron Norrie, though, was unable to find his best tennis as he was outplayed by the young, talented Italian Matteo Arnaldi, who reached the fourth round of a grand slam for the first time with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win.
Before his match with the No 1, Evans had noted that he enjoys facing opponents who play with variety. Blessed with delicate hands and net skills along with underrated athleticism, Evans suggested that he may be better equipped than others to deal with the barrage of drop shots, net forays and the inevitable cat-and-mouse rallies that develop in Alcaraz matches. But he also had no delusions about his limitations: “Hopefully that’s the way he plays and doesn’t try to blast me off the court, which is what he could do.”
In the early stages, that is exactly what he did do. Alcaraz attacked relentlessly, taking advantage of his much greater pace and weight of shot. The few times Evans tried to take the initiative and impose himself, he watched as Alcaraz tracked down every ball and passing shots flew past him. Within 15 minutes Alcaraz was leading 4-0 and he consolidated his early break to take the set.
But Evans eventually managed to make Alcaraz uncomfortable. After failing to take advantage of a 2-0 lead in the second set, double faulting twice in his following service game as Alcaraz retrieved the break and swept through the second set, Evans produced his best tennis in the third. He struck his forehand sweetly, constantly following it into the net and he served extremely well. He finished the set with 10 winners and only one unforced error.
Although Evans fought hard to remain in contact with Alcaraz, the decisive point of the fourth set indicated the futility of his task. While serving at 3-2 and down break point, he struck an excellent inside-out forehand that led to Alcaraz nearly losing his footing as he chased it down. Evans followed up by pounding a cross-court forehand to the other side and approaching the net.
Against nearly any other player the point would have been over, yet Alcaraz stumbled, regained his balance and then flitted to the other corner of the court to slot a forehand passing shot by his opponent. Evans had done nothing wrong, yet the match had run its course. Shortly after sealing the decisive break, Alcaraz closed out a solid win to advance.
Draper, meanwhile, has shown that he needs very few matches to regain his form even after numerous injury layoffs. But matches certainly help. With each win in New York, and the realisation that his shoulder and body are feeling good after various issues, Draper’s confidence and level have only grown.
This time, Draper served extremely well and dominated from inside the baseline with his heavy forehand. After marching to a two-set lead, he showed his mental strength by edging out the fourth and impressively serving out a final nerve-racking game.
Despite beating quality players such as Felix Auger Aliassime, Hubert Hurkacz and Emil Ruusuvuori at grand slam tournaments, this is the first time in Draper’s career that he has won a four-set match.
“Even though I haven’t been able to compete too much, I generally think I’m a much better player and better all-around athlete,” said Draper. “To come here a year on, despite maybe my ranking having dropped a fair bit because of the injuries and not being able to be on the same confidence level that I was last year, I’m incredibly proud of that and hopefully I can keep going this week.”