Rankings don’t lie – Dan Evans believes British tennis has soul-searching to do

Dan Evans has criticised the state of British tennis and believes Emma Raducanu’s success has papered over the cracks.

There will only be three British players in the singles main draws at the French Open starting on Sunday and, for the first time since 2008, no women.

Of the 10 British players in qualifying, none made the final round, while 2021 US Open champion Raducanu joined Andy Murray in withdrawing having undergone surgery on both her wrists and one ankle.

Speaking ahead of his first-round clash with Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis, Evans said: “They’ve been lucky that they had a grand slam champion and she’s a very good tennis player but the rankings don’t lie, do they?

“Men’s or women’s, the rankings don’t lie. Men’s, not many of us playing qualis, not many main draw. I don’t want to sound like a broken record. But there’s way further to go than just the top players. It’s from the bottom up.

“We’re in a massive, massive habit of sending people to college now. I don’t think that massively helps. It’ll be interesting. I think the grass last year really helped paper over some cracks as well. After the grass, there will be a bit of soul-searching I imagine, after their holidays.”

Evans has been a long-time critic of the domestic set-up and recently criticised some of his fellow British players for not competing enough and being willing to grind out life on the tour.

A late bloomer after serving a drugs ban and admitting to enjoying the party lifestyle too much, Evans knows well both the pitfalls and what it takes to achieve success.

The world number 24 said: “You’ve got to work hard. I know what it’s like to not work hard and what you get from that and I know what it’s like to work hard and get decent rewards.

“I’m not sitting here saying I know the answers. I have a fair idea of the answers and I would do it very differently to what’s happening now I think. There’s enough people playing junior tennis. We just don’t help them.”

Evans reserved his strongest ire for former Lawn Tennis Association performance director Simon Timson – now occupying the same role with Manchester City – who was the architect of a performance strategy that heavily funds a small number of players.

Former Lawn Tennis Association performance director Simon Timson
Dan Evans criticised former Lawn Tennis Association performance director Simon Timson (John Walton/PA)

“It’s just heartbreaking that a guy next door to you is getting 70 grand or something, but you’re better than him,” said Evans. “But a guy with these stats is telling you, ‘No, no, he’s better’.

“You can look who has been on PSP (Pro Scholarship Programme, the highest level of support). It’s hardly flourishing reading is it? And that’s what I think we need to (do) – get a bigger pool and just pool it all in and get going. It’s simple maths. But Simon Timson, he was the mastermind of it all.

“I couldn’t give a s**t about it. Simon Timson sat next to me and told me, ‘In all due respect to James Ward and Heather Watson, I put you three in the same bracket. You are close to finishing your career.’ And I said, ‘Thanks man’. That was that meeting.

“And I seem to have done all right since that meeting. He sent me to a psychologist, that was about it. I told him that it was a stepping stone, the job, and that’s exactly what it was. He wouldn’t be there in three years and he wasn’t. He didn’t know what he was watching.”

In response, an LTA spokesperson said: “Naturally we would have liked to see players progress from qualifying to main draw at Roland Garros this week.

“Despite this week’s results, we are making longer term progress – but there is more work to do before we consistently have the numbers we would like to see across all levels.

“That’s why we are investing in our junior players, staging more international competitions in this country and supporting players’ development, whatever is the best route for them to reach the top of the game, including both professional and the college system routes.

“Of course we need to go further and want players moving up the rankings, but we do believe we are heading in the right direction.”

Thanasi Kokkinakis
Dan Evans will take on Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Evans is certainly an example of what can be achieved with hard work and the right attitude, and he will hope to continue his improvement on clay when he takes on Kokkinakis on Sunday.

The British number two has lost his last three matches but reached the semi-finals of clay tournaments in Marrakech and Barcelona.

He joked of his relationship with the surface: “We had a good week at the start, and then we’ve not been on talking terms really, sleeping in separate beds.

“No, it’s been good. I feel comfortable. I’ve been playing good. It’s probably helped having an Argentinian coach, little intricacies, which the British probably don’t know because they’re not so brought up on the clay.”