It's only Thursday, but Daniel Evans is already experiencing the best week of his tennis career. In the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters' round of 16, the 30-year-old, 33rd-ranked Brit shocked top seed Novak Djokovic, 6-4, 7-5, to not only score his first win over a Top 5 player, but also reach his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal.
"It probably hasn't sunk in, yet," Evans said straight after the match. "I couldn't believe the last ball went over the net—and it nearly didn't! I was pleased, regardless, with how I was playing coming into the match, but you can never confident coming into such a big match against Novak.
"This will be one to tell the kids and grandkids about, that I beat the world No. 1."
Though Evans had never made the last eight of any clay-court tournament on the ATP level—coming into the week, his record on the slow surface was 7-17—he took full advantage of an off-day from Djokovic to knock out the world No. 1 in two hours and six minutes on Court Rainer III.
Evans earned a career-high ranking of No. 26 in February and has shown promise against the game’s best before, enduring a narrow defeat against Roger Federer earlier this year in Doha. In his second-round match in Monte Carlo, he dropped just five games to Miami Open champion Hubert Hurkacz.
WATCH: Daniel Evans talks with Prakash Amritraj after the big win
Djokovic had been off the court since winning his 18th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, but had shown few signs of rust to open his week against Jannik Sinner, easing past the Italian teenager in straight sets to book the clash with Evans.
"Yesterday I played pretty good match, I thought," Djokovic in his post-match press conference. "Today was completely the opposite of what I felt yesterday. It was obviously very, very windy, tough to play in these kind of conditions against a guy like Evans, who makes you move. He's very unpredictable with his shots. He dismantled my game."
Taking on the Serb for the first time, Evans enjoyed a lightning-quick start with a 3-0, double-break lead. Djokovic seemingly regained his rhythm after leveling the set at four games apiece, but another flat game helped the Brit break straight back and serve out the set at his third opportunity.
The second set began in reverse as it was Djokovic, a two-time Monte Carlo champion, who opened with a 3-0 advantage—only to see that lead swiftly evaporate. The true turning point came when Evans served down 4-5; shaking off a duffed backhand at 15-30 in the previous game, he saved a set point and rode the ensuing momentum into one last break of his own, clinching the career-best win up at net.
"The biggest thing is you've got to believe you can win," Evans said. "I can walk on saying it but you've really got to believe it, and of course I doubted myself in the match. Serving it out wasn't easy, because you've got all sorts of thoughts running through your head."
While Evans kept his stat sheet clean with an even 21 winners and 22 errors, Djokovic struggled with his range throughout the encounter, bowing out with a total 45 unforced errors to 28 winners. The Brit posted strong serving numbers to boot, out-pacing Djokovic on first-serve percentages and points won on first serve. On key points, Evans again proved more clutch, saving seven of 10 break points, while converting five of the seven he earned on Djokovic’s serve.
"This has been probably one of the worst matches and performances from my side I can recall in the last years," Djokovic said. "I don't want to take anything away from his win, but from my side, I just felt awful on the court overall. Just nothing worked. It's one of those days.
"I mean, I was just not feeling it, and playing pretty bad. Obviously right now, as I walk off the court, I'm disappointed with the way I played, the way I felt on the court. But it's a long clay season. Still plenty of tournaments, plenty of room to improve. Obviously I have to work, hopefully get a better performance next week in Belgrade."
Standing between Evans and a heretofore improbable run to the semifinals is No. 11 seed David Goffin, who pulled off an upset of his own against No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev, 6-4, 7-6 (7).
The 30-year-old Belgian has twice before made it this far in Monte Carlo, posting a semifinal finish back in 2017, where he fell to eventual champion Rafael Nadal. Doubles partners at the Western & Southern Open in New York last summer, Evans and Goffin last played singles at the 2020 ATP Cup, where the former won in straight sets.
Around the Grounds...
In the most dramatic comeback of the day, Casper Ruud rallied from 5-2 and later two match points down in the final set against No. 12 seed Pablo Carreño Busta, backing up his win over No. 7 seed Diego Schwartzman with another upset, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 7-5. The Norwegian is proving to be especially potent on clay as he reaches his second straight Masters 1000 quarterfinal on the surface. Awaiting Ruud in the last eight is 2019 champion Fabio Fognini, who extended his Monte Carlo winning streak to eight in a row after defeating Filip Krajinovic, 6-2, 7-6 (1). The 22-year-old won both of his 2020 meetings with Fognini, most recently on clay in Hamburg last fall.
Andrey Rublev similarly shrugged off a second-set hiccup to survive No. 9 seed Roberto Bautista Agut, 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-3. The No. 6-seeded Russian is into his third career Masters 1000 quarterfinal is two-for-two in 2021, but has the unenviable task of trying to unseat 11-time Monte Carlo champion Rafael Nadal in the next round. The Spaniard was on song against former world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov earlier in the day, and hasn't dropped a set against Rublev in their two most recent encounters—including a 6-3, 6-4 victory at the ATP Finals in November.
Rounding out the quarterfinalists are No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who will take on unseeded Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Davidovich Fokina ended former world No. 10 Lucas Pouille's Masters-level return from an elbow injury and will play Tsitsipas for the first time after the Greek star dispatched No. 16 seed Cristian Garin on Thursday.