Dan Evans loses out in Wimbledon epic, leaving Jo Konta to carry the flag

It would have been dubious privilege, earning a fourth round clash with Rafael Nadal, but Dan Evans will be only thinking about what might have been.

He dug so deep against Portugal’s Joao Sousa, but eventually came up short against the first Portuguese player to reach the second week at Wimbledon.

Evans won the first set 6-4 but let the chance of a 2-0 lead slip through his grasp 6-4, before losing a third set 7-5 – which seemed to be heralding him towards the Wimbledon exit doors.

The 29-year-old from Solihull suffered a demoralising break of serve to lose that pivotal set, having led 5-3 and been seemingly in control.

To his credit, the warrior spirit in him kicked in and he refused to go quietly. He grabbed the fourth set as the gloaming descended, and then, under a closed roof and lights which prompted a 15-minute delay, fought like a demon as the contest carried on for nearly four hours, finishing after 9pm.

A vociferous and partisan crowd cheered Evans’ every point, trying to will him home. But  Sousa, a year older, and  ranked eight places below Evans at 69, had beaten Marin Cilic in the previous round, suggesting he has been reaching new heights this week.

The quality of the rallies underlined the desire present in both in. It was an epic battle of wills in the reverberating, floodlit arena. It was a huge match for a man fighting his way back following a year’s ban after testing positive for cocaine and it showed from start to finish.

Andy Murray remains the only Brit, aside from Andy Murray, to have reached the fourth round since Tim Henman in 2014.

Johanna Konta is now the sole Briton involved in the singles in Monday’s fourth round. Standing in her way will be Petra Kvitova – a two times winner, in 2011 and 2014, who has looked in ominous form this week.

Kvitova, who beat Magda Linette of Poland in two sets, is on a mission to erase the memory of the home robbery she suffered in 2016 when a knife-wielding attacker damaged tendons and nerves in her leading left hand.

Konta has a good head to head record against America’s Sloane Stephens, and she prevailed once more in the same Court One where Evans would later appear.

She lost the first set 6-3 against the ninth seed, but stepped up her game to take the second 6-4, before overwhelming her increasingly bedraggled opponent 6-1 in the third. That makes it four wins and no defeats against, Stephens, over whom she clearly has the Indian sign.

At the start of the day, on Centre Court, Harriet Dart’s fine run was brutally ended by uncompromising Aussie Ashleigh Barty, whose 6-1, 6-1 demolition of the Briton suggested she fancies her chances of adding a first Wimbledon title to the French Open she won last month.

Dart was far from downhearted, however. “Not many people can say you played the third round of Wimbledon against the world number one on Centre Court,” she said. “I definitely enjoyed every minute.”

Evans’ epic duel with Sousa was in stark contrast to the procession of comfortable wins for some of the more fancied horses. Rafael Nadal v Jo Wilfried Tsonga had the makings of a classic, but the Spaniard is in blistering form and the man with the Mohamed Ali looks simply could not lay a glove on him. Those rippling whipped forearms paved the way for a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win in an hour and 48 minutes.

“I played a solid match. I played a good quality of tennis,” Nadal said. “Honestly, I felt very comfortable this afternoon out there.”

Soon after the number three seed’s win, Roger Federer, the number two, served notice that he fully intends to keep fighting for that ninth singles title at SW19. He beat Australian Open semi-finalist Lucas Pouille, of France, 7-5, 6-2, 7-6.

It was, incredibly, the 350th Grand Slam victory for the Swiss great. No one else comes close to that astonishing landmark. He is also two wins away from his 100th Wimbledon win.

There was a straight sets win for Serena Williams at the start of the day against Germany’s Julia Goerges, 6-3, 6-4, but her performance at the end of the day arguably drew greater attention. She partnered Andy Murray on Centre Court in the dream-ticket mixed doubles pairing.

Williams and Murray easily overcame Alexa Guarachi and Andreas Mies 6-4, 6-1. That will be some consolation for the Scot, who was earlier knocked out of the men’s doubles.

It was Murray’s first appearance on Centre Court since the agonising 2017 quarter-final defeat to Sam Querrey, when the real extent of his hip injury became all-too apparent. This was a happy return in front of warmly supportive and appreciative crowd.

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