Great Britain knocked out of United Cup by USA after Dan Evans blows lead
Great Britain were knocked out of the United Cup on Wednesday after Dan Evans suffered a three-set loss to American Frances Tiafoe.
British No 2 Evans blew his lead after going a set and a break up during the Sydney City Finals (effectively the quarter-final stage of the tournament) and ultimately fell to a resurgent Tiafoe 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.
It followed losses in both women’s singles rubbers for Britain on Wednesday in the mixed-team tournament, giving the USA an unassailable 3-1 lead with the doubles rubber still to play.
Madison Keys scored the first comeback win for the Americans earlier in the day over Katie Swan, and Britain’s Harriet Dart was blown out of the water by world No 3 Jessica Pegula in just 57 minutes.
Cameron Norrie was the only Brit who nabbed a point in the end, with a gutsy win over Taylor Fritz to keep his team’s hopes alive at 1-1. But after Dart’s result, Evans’ rubber became a must-win and he could not hold off world No 19 Tiafoe for long enough.
The second set turned into a real tussle, where Tiafoe, 24, broke back and then went 4-2 up, before Evans evened the score again. At 5-5, Evans had his best chance to win the match. He created three break points off Tiafoe’s serve, thanks in part to a return winner which had him and British team captain Tim Henman giggling like schoolboys.
That turned out to be their last light-hearted moment though, as Tiafoe miraculously saved all three break points – with the help of the net cord and landing a couple of unlikely shots – and he took control from thereafter. Early in the third set Evans – who is ranked 27th – had opportunities to break, but it was US Open semi-finalist Tiafoe who surged to the finish line and put the rubber, and the match, to bed.
It was always going to be a difficult prospect to beat the Americans, considering the strength in depth in their squad and the ranking disparity between the women’s singles players in particular. But Britain’s performance in this popular new-format competition was still positive, as they thrived in their group against two top outfits in Australia and Spain last week.
Despite the loss on Wednesday, Dart also out-performed her ranking in Sydney with her win over Spain’s Paula Badosa in the group stages, and Norrie made it three wins from three in singles rubbers as Britain’s most valuable player.
In what was one of the highest-level encounters of the United Cup so far, on Wednesday Norrie fought back from a break down in the deciding set to get the better of Fritz 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.
He will find extra satisfaction in the fact he ground out a win against his top rival. World No 9 Fritz is the player Norrie has faced the most on tour, with 11 previous meetings, and the American went into the tie with a 6-5 win-loss record over him.
Their meetings often prove tight affairs, but one of the key factors which saw Norrie edge it on Wednesday was that he served on average 10 kilometres quicker than usual.
The United Cup is proving a perfect warm-up for Norrie to the Australian Open, which begins on January 16. Last year he made his first major semi-final at Wimbledon and will have high hopes of equalling that feat in Melbourne.
His sharp start to the year in Sydney, against such high-calibre players, bodes well for his chances. Norrie beat two top-10 opponents in Fritz and Rafael Nadal, as well as home favourite Alex de Minaur, and consistently put the British team in great positions, especially in this tie against one of the top teams in the tournament.