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Dan Evans might be well advised to make the short walk from Monte Carlo Country Club to Monaco’s famous casino, because everything he touches right now is turning to gold.
After Thursday’s career-best win over world No1 Novak Djokovic, Evans faced David Goffin on Friday in a high-quality quarter-final. The two of them traded blows until they were coated in red clay granules, and resembled the survivors of a mid-Western dust storm.
Goffin had all the pedigree, including three previous appearances at this stage of the Monte Carlo Masters. But it was Evans who dragged himself over the line. He let out a mighty roar when Goffin’s final forehand flew wide, concluding his 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory after 2hr 41min.
“I was probably a little lucky to come through,” said Evans afterwards, as he spoke to Amazon Prime’s studio pundits. He might have been thinking about all the break points he saved: 15 in total, from Goffin’s 17 opportunities.
This was a triumph of willpower and positive thinking as much as courtcraft. And perhaps the most impressive detail is that Evans arrived in Monaco on a losing streak of four tight matches he could have won, including a psychologically crushing reverse against 19-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti in which he had held four match points.
Only one was needed on Friday, as Goffin folded under the pressure of serving to stay in the contest. As Evans explained later, “I think I did a good job in the third [set] to keep going point after point and hang in there.”
Having dropped a few places to No 15 after a difficult year, Goffin is just beginning to find some form again. He has an artist’s hands and such quick feet that he was able to neutralise one of Evans’s chief weapons, the low-bouncing backhand slice, by running around it and bringing his own forehand into play. But he struggled to return serve consistently, or to deal with Evan’s darting net attacks.
“He has a lot of talent,” said Goffin of Evans after the match. “He's able to change tactics when he needs to. He's very smart, very precise. When he feels down, he moves forward, makes shorter rallies.
“I knew him when I was a junior,” Goffin added. “I could see his red socks and the clay. You could see he didn't like playing on the surface. [But] it was only him who didn't believe he was able to play well on clay. Now he's more mature, has a more stable game, and he's able to fight and believe he can win.”
The result guarantees that Evans will equal his own career-best ranking of No26 after this event. And he would fly even higher if he could overcome Stefanos Tsitsipas in Saturday’s semi-finals. This will be a dauting task, though, because Tsitsipas can match Evans for guile and outdo him for power. He has dominated their two previous meetings.
“I’ll have to change some things, maybe be a bit more aggressive,” said Evans. “If I get dragged behind [the baseline] like today, with all due respect to David, he'll come in more and knock the volleys off a bit better. I need to be the one doing that.”
Whatever happens, Evans has already become the first Briton to reach the semi-finals of a Masters 1000 event since Andy Murray’s last great season of 2016. Were he to somehow overcome Tsitsipas, he would tick off a more considerable landmark, as the first Briton to reach the Monte Carlo final in the Open era.
In the bottom half of the draw, meanwhile, there was another surprise as Rafael Nadal was eliminated by the heavy-hitting Russian Andrey Rublev. Unusually, Nadal found himself outmuscled and outrun as he suffered a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 defeat.
Boulter thrashes Zacarias in Billie Jean King Cup
By Simon Briggs
Turning out for your country in the Billie Jean King Cup can be seen as a selfless act, given the absence of rankings points or prize money. And yet, these events often serve as springboards for a player’s season.
After Friday’s action at the National Tennis Centre, one wonders whether British No 9 Katie Boulter could become the latest beneficiary. Boulter made a slowish start against Marcela Zacarias, but then cranked up her level to deliver a 7-5, 6-0 thrashing.
Boulter has played just a handful of tour-level matches since her last appearance in this competition, two years ago, left her with a spinal stress fracture. But if she can reproduce the vicious ball-striking that turned Zacarias into a virtual spectator, she will soon be collecting scalps in the manner we remember from her breakthrough season of 2018.
“I was a little nervous at the start because of the occasion,” Boulter said. “But once I had toughed out the first set, I thought I played some really good tennis in the second.
"I’ve been doing that day in and day out on the practice court. It’s just a matter of getting more and more of it on the match court.”
This has already been a diverse season for Boulter, whose ranking of No 291 is unrepresentative of her ability. She made an encouraging start in Australia, beating teen prodigy Coco Gauff, before her protected ranking ran out and she had to revert to entry-level events in Egypt.
“I’d like to get my ranking back up,” said Boulter, who peaked at No 82 shortly before the injury.
“But ultimately I can’t control that. All I can control is what I do on a day in day out basis, and if I keep putting that level on the court, the ranking will take care of itself.”
Despite the lack of fans at the Lawn Tennis Association’s headquarters, Boulter said she had gained a sense of occasion from playing in front of a dozen or so team members. “It felt like we were back to a little bit more of a normal match,” she said. Her captain, Anne Keothavong, later described the whole experience as “surreal”.
Great Britain will start on Saturday with a 2-0 lead, needing only one more point to clinch the tie. Heather Watson, who beat Giuliana Olmos on Friday 7-5, 6-1, will have the opportunity to finish the job against Zacarias on Saturday morning.