England were eliminated from the United Cup on Wednesday after Dan Evans suffered a three-set loss to America’s Frances Tiafoe.
British #2 Evans smashed their lead after a hiatus by going to a set during the Sydney City Finals (effectively the quarterfinal stage of the tournament) and eventually fell 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 to the resurrected Tiafoe.
It followed England’s losses on the women’s singles tires in Wednesday’s mixed team tournament, giving the USA an undisputed 3-1 advantage with the doubles tires still being played.
The Madison Keys had their first comeback win for the Americans against Katie Swan earlier in the day, with British Harriet Dart blown out of the water by world No.
Cameron Norrie bravely beat Taylor Fritz to keep his team’s hopes alive at 1-1, becoming the only Brit to finally score a point. But after Dart’s conclusion, Evans’ rubber became a necessity and couldn’t hold the world’s #19 Tiafoe long enough.
The second set turned into a real challenge, with 24-year-old Tiafoe backing off and then taking a 4-2 lead before Evans leveled the score again. At 5-5, Evans had his best shot at winning the match. He created three breakouts from Tiafoe’s serve, thanks in part to the comeback winner who had him and British team captain Tim Henman chuckling like school kids.
It was their last moment of carelessness, as Tiafoe miraculously recovered all three breakpoints – with the help of the net cable and taking a few unexpected shots – and regained control after that. Early in the third set, Evans, who was in 27th place, had the opportunity to break, but it was US Open semi-finalist Tiafoe who rushed to the finish line and smashed the rubber and the game.
The Americans were always going to be hard to beat, given the depth of their roster and especially the difference in ranking among the singles. However, Britain’s performance in this popular new format competition was still positive as they did well in their group last week against the two best teams in Australia and Spain.
Despite Wednesday’s defeat, Dart also beat Spain’s Paula Badosa in the group stages, outpacing Sydney, with Norrie three wins in singles tires as England’s most valuable player.
On Wednesday, one of the United Cup’s highest-level matches ever, Norrie stepped back from a breakdown in the decision set to beat Fritz 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.
He will find extra satisfaction in the fact that he has a win against his biggest rival. World No. 9 Fritz is the player Norrie has faced the most in the round in 11 previous matches, and the American tied with a 6-5 win-loss record against him.
Their meetings are usually hard work, but one of the key factors that allowed Norrie to beat the situation on Wednesday was that he served an average of 10 kilometers faster than usual.
The United Cup provides an excellent warm-up for Norrie for the Australian Open, which kicks off on 16 January. He made his first major semi-final at Wimbledon last year and will have high hopes of equalizing that feat in Melbourne.
A sharp start to the year against such high-caliber players in Sydney bodes well for his chances. Norrie beat two of their top 10 rivals at home Alex de Minaur, alongside Fritz and Rafael Nadal, and put the English team in consistently great positions, especially in this draw against one of the tournament’s top teams.