Dan Evans fought back from a set and a break down to defeat teenage debutant Arthur Fils and give Great Britain a 1-0 lead in their crucial Davis Cup clash with France in Manchester.
Although Leon Smith’s side were unbeaten after victories over Australia and Switzerland, other results meant only a win in the three-match tie would be enough to finish in the top two in the group and send them through to the final-eight event in Malaga in November.
Nineteen-year-old Fils showed his huge potential to put himself in a winning position and quieten the 13,000-strong sell-out crowd at the AO Arena – the biggest single-day attendance for a Davis Cup match in Britain.
Incredible moment. Incredible noise.
— LTA (@the_LTA) September 17, 2023
But a combination of a drop-off from the Frenchman and a strong fightback from 33-year-old Evans carried him to a 3-6 6-3 6-4 victory, putting Britain in the box seat.
“There’s something about Davis Cup, it’s never, ever simple,” said Evans. “It’s an amazing crowd today.
“You really helped me get through when I was a set and a break down and not feeling exactly how I wanted to be playing. To be playing in front of such a big crowd for the country again, it’s everything to me.”
Team selection has been one of the most intriguing aspects of this week and here it was France springing a surprise by turning to Fils ahead of the experienced Adrian Mannarino, against whom Evans has a great record.
Smith opted for his two highest-ranked singles players, overlooking Jack Draper, who made his own impressive debut in beating Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis on Wednesday, and Andy Murray.
Fils is the highest-ranked teenager in the world at 44 and the most exciting of a crop of young French players.
It was immediately clear this was not a comfortable match-up for the 5ft 9in Evans, who struggles to impose his finesse-based game against power hitters.
He was not helped by a poor first-serve percentage in the opening set and a forehand winner drilled down the line earned Fils the break for 5-3.
Evans was in deep trouble when he was broken again to start the second set and he slammed his racket down in frustration at his inability to make life uncomfortable for his young opponent.
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) September 17, 2023
But the teenager’s assurance deserted him in the sixth game when he missed a succession of first serves and then a backhand to give Evans the break back.
Suddenly the spring was in the British number two’s step and, with the crowd right behind him, he kept the pressure firmly on Fils, breaking again to lead 5-3 and then again to start the deciding set.
The teenager stayed in contention by saving break points in his next two service games and the arena was racked with tension as Evans served for the match, leaping with delight when a final shot from Fils landed in the net.