There was rust and a few extra pounds but also plenty of signs that Dan Evans remains a high-quality tennis player as he marked his return from a year-long drugs ban with victory over his countryman Ed Corrie. The 27-year-old tired towards the end of the 6-3, 7-6 (6) win but did enough to book his place in the second round of qualifying at the Glasgow Challenger.
The final three points showed why Evans is a talent British tennis has never been prepared to let slip away despite various misdemeanours, of which the latest was by far the most serious. After whipping a backhand winner past Corrie to save a set point, Evans dug out a fine low volley to set up his first match point and took it with a backhand winner on the run that left him shaking his head.
He said: “I pretty much felt like I’d won the tournament. I didn’t know what was going to happen today so it’s good to come out on top and get another chance to play again tomorrow. I was pleasantly surprised. I played better than I have been. Some parts of my game need a bit of work but it’s the first match. I felt fine physically. I was getting a bit tired towards the end but after so long off that’s pretty normal I think.”
Evans did not pick up a racket between learning of his failed test last June and 24 February, when he was permitted to enter official training facilities again two months before the end of his ban. He has worked hard enough to pass the physical tests that – along with random drug testing and contributing to its anti-doping education programme – were a condition of Evans receiving support from the Lawn Tennis Association.
The governing body’s decision to grant Evans a wild card here has not been universally popular. The situation is reminiscent, albeit on a far more low-key scale, of the furore surrounding the wild cards given to Maria Sharapova last year on her return from a doping ban.
Evans appears far more sensitive to the issue and a major incentive for winning his second-round clash against Sam Barry on Sunday will be the chance to earn his first ranking points, which would allow him to enter tournaments on his own merit.
He said: “Everyone’s got their opinions, it’s not for me really to get involved with. I did ask for (a wild card) but it wasn’t because I wanted one, I needed to play tennis. The draw’s not full so I’m not taking someone else’s opportunity away, which would then be probably unfair. It’s a difficult situation. I just play and if I get one, I get one, but if I don’t, I can’t have any qualms, I’ve just come back from a failed drugs test.”
Evans was given a warm reception by the surprisingly sizeable Glasgow crowd, which included Davis Cup captain Leon Smith, who has made no secret of his desire to see Evans back at the top of the game. If he can get there or how long it will take will become clearer over the next few months, and for now Evans is not setting himself any targets.
“It’s too hard to gauge just now,” he said. “I could go the rest of the year not winning many matches. It’s just literally day by day. We’ll see how this week goes and then see after that.”
Follow the Independent Sport on Instagram here, for all of the best images, videos and stories from around the sporting world.