When a champion like Novak Djokovic plays a very good (not great) player like Dan Evans – particularly on a surface that he is just now starting to tame – two things have to happen for the underdog to win.
The favorite has to have an off-day. And the underdog has to have a great day.
How much of a measure of each is the variable. And those two factors are interdependent.
And the result was that the world No. 1 was handed his first loss of the 2021 season.
In Evans’s 6-4, 7-5 victory in the third round of Monte Carlo Thursday, the 30-year-old Brit was terrific in using his slice to great effect on the clay.
Djokovic was … not so great. Not as terrible as he later expressed. But far from his best level.
“Just an awful performance. I can’t take any positives away from this match,” Djokovic said in a Zoom conference shortly afterwards.
Here’s what he said.
In the end, it was far enough from Djokovic’s best that Evans’s best level was enough to win on the day.
Evans figuring it out on the clay
It happens. And Evans, who had barely won a match on clay in his career coming into Monte Carlo, is now figuring out how to make the surface work with the tools he has in his arsenal.
It’s probably not a place he could have gotten to earlier in his career, when he wasn’t fit enough or patient enough to do what needed to be done. But at 30, he’s there now.
Evans’s variety (even some second serve-volleys) kept Djokovic off-timing enough that he wasn’t able to play his way into rhythm.
And it appeared from the outside that he was relishing the experience of playing the best in the world, relatively loose and unperturbed by whatever happened, or didn’t happen, over the course of two hours.
While most fans of players tend to look only on the side of the net of their faves for reasons for a win or loss, the truth is that those reasons are most often found on both sides.
And so, with Alexander Zverev’s loss to David Goffin, a Djokovic-Zverev quarterfinal turns into an … Evans-Goffin quarterfinal.
That’s why they play.