Dan Evans put himself within two wins of a maiden ATP Tour title after completing two wins in a single day at Melbourne Park.
No sooner had the British No 1 scored an excellent second win, over Croatia’s Borna Coric to make the last four of the Murray River Open than he discovered his awkward draw for next week’s Australian Open.
He will play the only other British man in the draw, Cam Norrie, with whom he has practised during the unusual preparation period for next week’s opening Grand Slam of 2021.
Dan Evans, Britain’s main hope for a good run, will face Cameron Norrie at Australian Open
Norrie was drawn against fellow Brit Evans in the first round of the first Grand Slam of the year
On Thursday, when all play was postponed to allow for a new round of testing, he ended up hitting with Norrie at 7pm, having been allowed out after his Covid test came back negative.
‘It’s a long way to come to play another Brit,’ said Evans. ‘The last time we played he beat me so maybe I’m the underdog. We’ve played together twice since we’ve been here and got on site late on Thursday.
‘Yesterday was fairly boring but I tried to treat it as a day off. I think they (the tournament) did a pretty good job. I’m just happy to be able to play.’
Evans, who could end up playing Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open third round, has found his form early this year. On Friday he began by beating American Marcus Giron 6-4,7-6 and then claimed the decent scalp of world No 25 Coric with a 7-5, 7-6 win.
He now faces Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, who was given a walkover by Stan Wawrinka’s withdrawal. Not unexpectedly, some players are clearly saving themselves for the Open next week.
Evans is not among them: ‘It’s a big opportunity for me. It’s like playing with free money, if you win the semi-finals then you’re in the final but if not then you can prepare for next week.’
There is the carrot for the winner of a possible third-round clash with second seed Rafael Nadal
He also reiterated that he is unlikely to play in the Olympic tennis event, something he has hinted before. ‘I’m closer to that way right now,’ he admitted of a tournament which is in the wrong time and the wrong place. Other tennis players may well be thinking the same.
Evans is the 30th seed and Britain’s main hope for a good run Down Under along with women’s 13th seed Jo Konta, who will play qualifier Kaja Juvan in the opening round.
Heather Watson faces a rematch with Czech Kristyna Pliskova, who she beat at the same stage last year, while Katie Boulter will take on former top-10 player Daria Kasatkina.
Twenty-year-old qualifier Francesca Jones will make her Grand Slam main draw debut against big-hitting American Shelby Rogers.
Among the top seeds, world No 1 Ashleigh Barty’s first slam match for a year will be against Danka Kovinic while Serena Williams takes on Germany’s Laura Siegemund.
Defending champion Novak Djokovic opens against experienced Frenchman Jeremy Chardy
US Open champion Naomi Osaka has a tough opener against Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who has reached the quarter-finals in three of the last four years, while defending champion Sofia Kenin faces Australian wild card Maddison Inglis.
Men’s top seed and perennial winner Novak Djokovic opens against experienced Frenchman Jeremy Chardy and is in the same half as US Open champion Dominic Thiem, who meets Mikhail Kukushkin.
Nadal, who takes on Laslo Djere, has a path that could include a quarter-final meeting with Stefanos Tsitsipas and a semi-final against fourth seed Daniil Medvedev.
A straight sets win over American Marcos Giron saw Evans through to the quarter finals at the Murray River Open on Friday as the Briton continued his positive preparation for the Australian Open next week.
The eighth seed defeated Giron 6-4, 7-6 (7) at Melbourne Park, with Evans coming out strongly after play was suspended in the second set due to rain.
Serena Williams takes on Germany’s Laura Siegemund as she bids for her 24th Grand Slam title
While Barty dominated the super tiebreaker to beat Shelby Rogers 7-5,2-6 (10-4) and set up a semi-final against Williams in the Yarra Valley Classic on Friday but Williams had to withdraw from the warm-up event due to a niggling shoulder injury.
Organisers were able to breathe a sigh of relief on Friday when the 507 people retested for coronavirus all returned negative results.
Preparations were thrown into chaos again two days earlier when an employee at one of the hotels used for the mandatory fortnight of quarantine tested positive for the virus.
Play in the six warm-up events was suspended on Thursday and the draw delayed but tournament director Craig Tiley expressed complete confidence the Australian Open would be able to start on time on Monday and matches resumed on Friday.
Fresh restrictions were imposed on Melbourne, which had experienced no community cases for nearly a month, but so far the city has seen no other positive tests aside from those in quarantine.
Meanwhile, eighth seed Bianca Andreescu is gearing up to play her first tournament since October 2019.
The Canadian rocketed to the top of the game that season, winning the US Open as a teenager, but a knee injury sidelined her at the beginning of last year and she did not play competitively when the tour resumed last summer.
Andreescu, now 20, sparked alarm when she pulled out of this week’s Grampians Trophy but she insisted that was just a precaution after two weeks of hard quarantine.
There remain question marks over her physical frailty, but Andreescu said: ‘I’m working really, really hard to prevent as much as possible. Sometimes you really can’t. Things just happen.
‘Right now I had a long period where I can focus on those things and train to the best of my capabilities, which I’ve been doing. I don’t always want to focus on the past. I want to focus on the future now.
‘At this point I’m just super grateful to be back, healthy. And I’m really looking forward to it.’