It was 25 years ago that David Felgate first coached a main draw player at Wimbledon – a then little known British teenager called Tim Henman. A quart
It was 25 years ago that David Felgate first coached a main draw player at Wimbledon – a then little known British teenager called Tim Henman.
A quarter of a century on he is applying his wealth of accrued knowledge to another player who is probably the host nation’s best hope of a decent run in the men’s singles, Dan Evans.
Henman and Evans are contrasting characters – the former an unmistakeable son of Middle England, the other a reformed tearaway who last year completed a ban after being found to have sniffed cocaine.
David Felgate (left) is hoping to coach Dan Evans (right) to success at Wimbledon next month
Felgate is looking to pass on all his knowledge to the in-form Evans as they climb the rankings
Yet for all their difference in background they share a similar style of elegant tennis, to the point where Evans studies video footage of the former GB No 1. And both will testify to the benefits of Felgate’s no-nonsense brand of coaching.
The results with Evans have been startling. When they first hooked up 12 months ago he was being denied a wildcard by Wimbledon and was still ranked 362 in the world, a figure that has improved by just shy of 300 places, partly due to the two tournaments he has won in the past month. On Tuesday he made the second round in Eastbourne by beating world No 41 Radu Albot 7-6, 6-2.
The 29-year-old from Birmingham is no more the party animal: ‘We’ve not had an argument or any disagreements, he probably disagrees with some of the stuff I say but that’s just normal,’ reflects the famously plain-speaking Evans. ‘I am way fitter than I was a year ago.
It has not been a straightforward trajectory, however. Evans began the season ranked 192 at a Challenger in the small Australian town of Playford, and was soundly beaten in the first round.
‘After that he was devastated, very down having put so much work in over the off season and not got any reward,’ recalls Felgate. ‘I think that’s where you earn your corn as a coach. We flew straight to Melbourne, he had a very good practice with Gael Monfils for a couple of hours and, as it turns out, he was on his way.’
Two weeks later he had fought through qualifying at the Australian Open, and made the second round proper, where he forced Roger Federer to three tight sets. Federer was sufficiently impressed that two months ago he issued a royal summons to the British player to come and practice with him in Switzerland.
Evans finds himself a man in form for the grass court season having won the Surbiton Trophy
He followed this up with another impressive run to take the Nature Valley Open in Nottingham
Player-coach relationships in tennis can be suffocating, with the need to get on both on and off the court.
They clearly enjoy each other’s company, and while Evans can polarise opinion due to his turbulent past and outspokenness, Felgate will attest that there is far more to him than any Jack the lad image.
‘Dan is a deeper thinker than some might expect, incredibly inquisitive, very smart in many ways and he loves the sport. There’s actually quite a lot in common with Andy (Murray).
‘He knows all the results, he is very caring and interested in younger players. He will have a practice with someone like Jack Draper and then always give him a few helpful observations at the end.
‘There are also similarities with Tim: he was always playing Pool, asking questions, loved the banter, and Dan is like that. They may come from different ends of the street but their styles are a bit the same.’
This is why, during the clay court season, the player delved into YouTube to look at Henman’s run to the French Open semi-finals of 2004.
‘Without being rude to Tim he didn’t have the biggest shots in the world, and neither do I,’ says Evans. ‘I wanted to see how he won his points on clay and that helped me work out my own game style and I thought I ended up playing pretty well on it.’
Evans (right) can polarise opinion but he is doing his talking on the court, rather than off it, now
Felgate is an experienced coach and has helped to bring the best out of the British No 3
You ask, inevitably, about what might be termed the British No 3’s refuelling habits, which have dramatically changed for the better in the past 12 months.
‘I know what I want out of life now,’ says Evans. ‘ It’s difficult when you’re younger, I thought I was missing out if I wasn’t going out. Now I know I’m not really missing out and I’d prefer to spend the evening with my girlfriend. She gets p***ed off with me sometimes but we have a good relationship.
‘There’s always something better to do rather than wake up hungover, that isn’t in the plans any more. I did have a few beers one night in Indian Wells (in March) and threw up the next morning. I definitely feel healthier as I get older I want to look after my body better.’
Felgate has not felt the need to lay down the law: ‘I’ve never told him not to have a night out but he actually self-regulates well.
‘He had one at Indian Wells, he may have two blowouts this year. I don’t mind that, most players do that. He’s not an angel, he’s just a normal guy. I like going to work every day with Dan, because it’s fun. We talk about football, he likes the horses, doesn’t take himself too seriously.’
A key to getting the player into the best shape of his life is the largely unseen work of the drills done on the practice court.
‘I actually do a lot of the fitness on the court, which suits me, the stuff we do with Dave is physically tough,’ says Evans.
Studying clips of Tim Henman in 2004 on clay helped Evans adapt for the French Open
While he was beaten in round one, Evans felt he played ‘pretty well’ in Paris as his ranking rises
‘A lot of his drills are hard work and about discipline and not missing, so you have got a strong base.
‘We do a lot of two-on-ones for 45 minutes without a break and it’s ball-busting stuff. I think technically he has improved my volleys a lot and my serve has definitely got a lot better.’
Felgate developed his methods largely over his nine years working with Henman (during which he made three Wimbledon semi-finals) and an eight year association with the top Croatian WTA player Donna Vekic.
Evans, who has been critical of the emphasis placed on sports science favoured by the Lawn Tennis Association, was intrigued to find that Federer also favours the kind of work he does with Felgate when he went to train with the Swiss superstar near his mountain home.
‘A lot of it, his drills and stuff, is quite simple. Maybe what people might miss about Roger is just how hard he works.
‘He might look smooth but there is no messing and every shot he hits has a purpose. He was right on it with every ball and I could feel that at the other end of the court, I knew I had to practice better because of it.
‘When I was there on one day the wind was incredible, like when he played Rafa in the semis this year at the French.
‘We practised two hours in it non-stop, he wasn’t bothered about it, he was laughing. If I’m honest I thought he might not want to practice because the wind was so bad but there he was, all ready and up for it.
The sessions are intense with Evans revealing that Felgate’s coaching has made him fitter
Felgate (left) senses that Evans (right) is not completely aware how good of a player he really is
‘I asked him as many questions as I thought I could get away with. I didn’t want him to think I was a pest and never want to practise with me again. I’m 29, I can’t act like an 18-year-old asking non-stop questions, but he was very nice, very cool.’
With Andy Murray focusing on doubles it is probably Evans who represents the best chance of a British man going deep into Wimbledon, as he can undoubtedly beat most players on grass.
‘Dan’s hands are right up there with Tim’s, in terms of natural feel,’ says Felgate.
‘Sometimes I’m not sure he knows how good he is.’