Evans Ends Djokovic’s Perfect 2021 Start

Daniel Evans recorded the biggest win of his career on Thursday at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters to end World No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten start to the 2021 ATP Tour season.

Evans, who had won only four clay-court matches prior to arriving in Monte-Carlo, booked a place in his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final with a stunning 6-4, 7-5 victory over the 2013 and 2015 champion in two hours and nine minutes.

World No. 33 Evans, who used his slice to great effect, held his nerve after seeing a double-break lead evaporate, then fought back from 0-3 down in the second set. He saved one set point at 4-5, 30/40 en route to his fourth Top 10 victory (4-14 lifetime) that ended Djokovic’s perfect 10-0 start to 2021, which includes lifting his ninth Australian Open crown (d. Medvedev).

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Evans said in his post-match interview. “I couldn’t quite believe the last ball went over the net. It nearly didn’t. I was pleased, regardless, with how I was playing coming into the match. I felt good. You can never be confident coming into such a big match like that against Novak. It is clearly a big win and I am delighted that I got through, especially being a break down and [having had] little difficulties in the first set. It was really pleasing and I am delighted.

“The biggest thing is, you have got to believe you can win. I can walk on saying it, but you have really got to believe it. Of course, I doubted myself in the match. Serving it out is not easy. You have got all sorts [of things] running through your head. I am just happy with how it went and it will be one to savour for maybe after the tournament, to tell the kids and grandkids that you beat the World No. 1. It is a nice one.”

The 30-year-old Evans, who captured his first ATP Tour title in February at the Murray River Open (d. Auger-Aliassime), will now play Belgian No. 11 seed David Goffin, who knocked out fifth-seeded German Alexander Zverev 6-4, 7-6(7) in one hour and 51 minutes. Goffin saved one set point at 6/7 in the second set tie-break and closed out on his fifth match point.

Evans leads Goffin 1-0 in their ATP Head2Head series, winning 6-4, 6-4 at the 2020 ATP Cup. Goffin, who reached the 2017 Monte-Carlo semi-finals, captured his fifth ATP Tour title in February at the Open Sud de France (d. Bautista Agut).

Djokovic praised Evans, saying: “He deserved to win. He was a better player. Just more focused I guess and played with a better quality in the decisive moments. This has been probably one of the worst matches and performances from my side I can recall in the [recent] years… Yesterday, I played [a] pretty good match I thought. Today, was completely the opposite of what I felt yesterday. [It] was obviously very, very windy, tough to play in these kind of conditions against a guy like Evans who makes you move. He’s very unpredictable with his shots. He dismantled my game.”

Evans got off to a great start, winning 12 of the first 17 points for a 3-0 lead as Djokovic appeared to struggle in the windy conditions. The World No. 1, who looked sharp on his ATP Tour return against Jannik Sinner on Wednesday, recovered to 2-3 and held two break points with Evans serving at 15/40, but the Briton clinched the 10-minute sixth game.

Once Djokovic drew Evans to the net, he created errors and broke back to 4-4, only for Evans to dig deep and break for a third time in their first ATP Head2Head meeting. Looking like an experienced clay-courter, Evans let out of a roar of delight upon clinching the 57-minute opener, after Djokovic committed his 23rd unforced error.

Djokovic struck back immediately, dialing in on his return of serve and forcing Evans further behind the baseline. Like Evans in the first set, the Serbian star gained a 3-0 advantage by targeting his opponent’s slice backhand and moving to the net to finish off points. But Evans kept fighting and produced a fine forehand winner to break in the fifth game.

With Djokovic on the ropes at 4-4, 15/30, Evans hit a short backhand into the net. The miss could have proved crucial, but Evans brushed it off and held his nerve in the closing stages. Djokovic missed out on one set point with a backhand into the net on Evans’ serve at 4-5, 30/40, and later handed Evans a 6-5 lead with a double fault. Evans secured the biggest win of his career with a forehand winner.

Did You Know?
Evans came into the second Masters 1000 tournament of 2021 with a 4-14 career record on clay courts.

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