By STEVE DORSEY
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Daniel Evans does not seem to want to leave Delray Beach. He’s already been here more than a week, and he’s extended his stay here another day.
The gritty Brit continued his remarkable run at the ATP Tour’s Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com on Saturday by taking down No. 2 seed and world No. 9 American John Isner 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the singles semifinals at the Delray Beach Stadium and Tennis Center.
Earlier in the week, Evans also rallied from a set down to oust No. 3 seed and defending Delray champion Frances Tiafoe in the first round, a win that seemed to jumpstart his run to the finals after having to win two matches last weekend in the qualifying draw. Evans also ousted No. 6 seed Andreas Seppi in the quarterfinals.
Evans is the first qualifier to reach the finals in Delray Beach since Ernests Gulbis in 2013. The 5-9 right-hander with a highly effective backhand slice will be playing in his second career final on Sunday afternoon and will crack the ATP Tour top 100 rankings at No. 87 if he wins the title, a meteoric rise from his No. 148 ranking when he arrived here.
“You got to be so resilient in this sport, it’s so up and down. Obviously, my down was from own doing,” said Evans, who a year ago was still serving a one-year suspension from tennis because of a positive test for cocaine after having reached a career-high No. 48 ranking. “It could be injuries. Let’s say mine was a mental injury. You just keep believing. I could never imagine I’d be close to the top 100 in such a small amount of time.”
Evans was able to withstand the 6-10 Isner’s big serve, even though Isner delivered 16 aces and had no double faults. Isner, who was bidding to reach his first final in Delray Beach, lost for the fourth time in the semifinals here.
“There’s something about the semifinals here,” said Isner, who remains two match wins shy of his milestone 400th career win. “I did enough to get to the semis, but I don’t know. It’s getting to me now.”
Evans said he has not allowed himself to become intimidated by opponents’ rankings, their size, strengths or being the underdog qualifier here this week.
“I just play every match as it comes, every point, every game,” Evans said. “It sounds very cliché, but I’m not thinking about beating a guy who’s top 10, or if there’s balls coming at me today a lot quicker and faster. I’m just playing every match. It’s not about beating John, it’s not about beating Seppi. I’m just trying to focus on myself and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing this week. I’m moving well, I’m playing pretty good.”
Isner was unable to sustain the momentum he built in the first set, as Evans’ return game improved and he seemed to become more energized as the match wore on.
“He was making a lot of balls, a lot of returns, and I think tactically I did some things poorly today, so that’s what ultimately cost me,” Isner said. “I should have served and volleyed more, no doubt. He was chipping balls back. I was hitting my forehand very well in the first set. It just got away from me and I just played some sloppy games.”
Evans won’t know who is opponent in Sunday’s championship match will be until later tonight when the other semifinal between American Mackenzie McDonald and Radu Albot of Moldova is contested. And he really probably doesn’t care.