That is it for Wimbledon fairytales this year – unless Sam Querrey can protect a two-set lead and pull off the shock of the year against Novak Djokovic when they return on Saturday.
However, while those two combatants and everyone else on unsheltered courts packed up and fled the intermittent rain on Friday evening, Dan Evans remained under the Center Court roof with Roger Federer, who advanced regally into the fourth round despite the best, flickering efforts of the world No91 from Birmingham.
The rain has so wrecked the draw – with a few showers forecast for Saturday as well – that Wimbledon will use the rest day on Sunday for the first time since 2004 to catch up. But there was no way Evans was going to catch on to Federer’s coat-tails once he broke into a sprint. They both get Sunday off, Federer temporarily before the tougher business begins next week. There is a long way to go but he is on Djokovic’s side of draw; all of a sudden that is not such a bad place to be.
“I got off to a good start in all three sets, which helped a lot,” Federer said courtside. “He didn’t get many free points off his own serve. I was able to get a lot of balls back, and I was extremely happy with the way I played. Andy [Murray] is far away in the draw, so I won’t be playing him for a while.”
The Swiss, who has struggled this year with injury and illness, is steadily getting back to something like his best and won 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 to send Evans into the wilderness again, alongside his fellow plucky British outsiders, Marcus Willis, Liam Broady and James Ward.
They all had enjoyed the mixed joy and anxiety of playing in the game’s grandest setting – but they were all doomed, sharing the space as they did with Federer (who also did for Willis), Murray (Broady) and the defending champion, Djokovic (Ward).
Evans was pleased with his effort, apart from his serving, and said later: “It is a great feeling. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done. I want everybody else to know, Willis, people like that, what he’s done this week, it’s such a good thing for tennis in Britain. Hopefully there are juniors out there thinking: ‘That could be me.’
“Everyone dreams about playing Federer on Centre Court. Two Brits got a chance this year. That should be inspiration for a lot of people. It’s inspiration for me that I got a chance to play him. I want that again, to play other good players on those courts.”
Three years ago at Flushing Meadows, Evans came within a few games of playing Federer in the fourth round of the US Open. He was as nerveless and ebullient as he had ever been in his very interesting career. But, having beaten Kei Nishikori (then No12 in the world) and his nearer rival, the similarly erratic Australian Bernard Tomic, with some brilliant tennis to reach the third round, he could not quite get the better of the experienced Tommy Robredo – who went on to put Federer out of the tournament in the next match.
Those were the fine distinctions in opportunity and form that pertained at that slam. Here Evans double-faulted to hand Federer his fourth chance of the first game, which took seven minutes, then framed a forehand, but there was never a sense that he would do to the Birmingham player what he did to the man from Wokingham, Willis, two days ago and take the opening set to love.
While Evans was in with a shout in nearly every rally, trusting his wristy ground strokes from all parts of the court to get back to 3-4 after 25 minutes, Federer’s serving was pinpoint sharp and he aced to hold in the ninth game.
However, the Swiss’s movement and ball-striking were mixed. He wasted a gift-wrapped break chance for the set on Evans’s serve and was relieved when his now fired-up opponent thrashed a final forehand into the net.
It was a decent effort by Evans to stay with Federer to this point and he should have taken heart from his performance, if not the scoreline but the world No3 clicked into a higher gear and, when Evans was munching on his banana on the second changeover, he was three games down and hurting.
When Willis found his feet in the second round, he edged closer to Federer in the closing stages, by which time it was way too late to make a meaningful impression. Evans was moving in the other direction – largely due to his opponent’s heightened sense of urgency.
Evans should have broken back in the fourth game but wasted almost the entire width of the court with a sloppy forehand, with Federer stranded and motionless on the deuce side.
His previously testing forehands began to stray or fall short too often, and his serving arm did not settle. In less than an hour Evans had struck six double faults to Federer’s flawless six aces.
He got on the board when Federer botched a forehand, but, even though he continued to go for his shots, the damage had been done. Still, even when the second set had gone, he refused to abandon his strategy – what choice did he have, after all? – and he had his moments, none cheered more loudly than the forehand winner that earned him a game at the start of the third.
Evans’s single-handed backhand might not have been the classic mirror of his illustrious opponent’s famous rapier but it is still a weapon of worth and he used it to good effect here and there. Nor did he stop trying; whatever the criticisms of Evans’s dedication in the distant past, he is a reformed athlete.
He gave all he had but, in the face of a rejuvenated and obviously motivated legend, his serving went to pot again and Federer coasted to the line.
Evans stayed in the tournament for a few lingering moments, holding for 2-5, but Federer’s closing serve was as strong and clinical as it had been for the previous hour and 25 minutes.