Durham’s Jonny Binding beats GB Davis Cup team member Dan Evans

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Durham University tennis continues to go from strength to strength. The men’s 1sts currently sit on top of the Premier North division with seven wins out of seven and two players from the all-conquering squad – Jonny Binding and Dom Beesley – this week took that success to a national level.

At the 2015 Aegon British Tour Masters, Beesley made the last 16 while Binding reached the semi-finals in a run that included a three set victory over Dan Evans, a member of Britain’s triumphant Davis Cup team.

Binding overcame the former British No.2, who is currently ranked 186 in the world, 6-4 6-7 6-4 at the Nottingham Tennis Centre. “It’s definitely the biggest win of my career and the best match I’ve ever played”, Jonny told Palatinate in an interview afterwards. “I’m enjoying my tennis more than ever and it’s nice to get the rewards for lots of hard work.”

In a field comprising the top 32 men on the Aegon British Tour in 2015, Binding and Beesley were two of only four university players competing and the only two to progress beyond the first round. Moreover, this year marked the first time that they had both qualified for the year-end Masters, a demonstration of their improvement and consistency over the whole season.

In his first match, Beesley came from behind to beat world-ranked teenager Sam Ferguson 5-7 6-2 6-2. “I had played him once before and lost. But, despite going a set down, I stayed mentally tough and didn’t lose my cool. I used the experience of being a set down in last Wednesday to come through”, Dom commented.

That would prove to be as far as he would progress. The Durham men’s tennis captain was beaten in straight sets in the last 16 by Marcus Willis, a left-hander with a career-high ranking of 322. “He was too clever”, Dom said. “He varied his game well and didn’t allow me to settle. I didn’t really have a weapon to hit through him.”

But while Beesley’s run was over, Binding had managed to make it through to the last eight. It was at this juncture that the name of Dan Evans loomed large in the draw.

“I knew I was playing well”, Binding said.  “In the round of 16 I won 11 games in a row to win the match. But I never truly believed I could beat Evans. People tell you to ignore your opponent. In reality, that’s very difficult. I was obviously aware of who he is and what he’s done.”

Binding had played Evans once previously, losing 6-1 6-1 four years ago. This time, however, it was clear early on that this could be his day.

The pair exchanged breaks to start the match before Binding built a healthy 4-1 lead. Evans pegged him back to 4-3 but Binding would not be denied, taking the opening set 6-4.

Binding used that momentum to establish a 3-1 lead in the second set. Under the cosh, Evans began to step it up. He broke back and the set headed to a tiebreak. With Binding serving at 4-5 down, Evans’ passing shot clipped the net and the ball evaded Binding’s out-stretched racquet for a winner. The current British No.5 converted his first set point to bring the contest level.

In shades of Andy Murray in the 2012 US Open Final, Jonny went off court before the final set for a moment of self-reflection and motivation.

In a pivotal opening game to start the third set, Binding held serve after fending off two break points. The set then followed a similar pattern to the opener; Binding broke to move up 3-1 before Evans struck back to level the score.

Returning at 4-3 up, Binding suddenly reeled off four winners to break Evans’ serve and move within a game of victory. Then, he served out the match and sealed the finest win of his life by holding to love.

“I was totally focused and in the zone”, an ecstatic Binding reflected. “At the net he just said ‘too good’. I returned really well. A win like this helps me believe that I belong at that level.”

Beesley, meanwhile, had been supporting from the comfort of the overlooking balcony and was enthused by his teammate’s performance. “Jonny’s never been world ranked but he didn’t look out of place. To be honest, I think I was more nervous watching! I thought his chance had gone. He’d come so close in the second and Evans was really up for it. I knew he had to start well in the decider. The game he played to break was the best game I’ve ever seen from a non-professional. He showed great resilience and seeing him play like that inspires me to push my game to his level.”

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Evans may have been undercooked following the high of Great Britain’s Davis Cup celebrations, but this was a phenomenal win for Binding.

For all his off-court antics, Evans has proved himself capable of mixing it with the best. Two years ago, he carried Britain out of the Davis Cup doldrums with a deciding rubber victory in Coventry over against Russia. Moreover at the 2013 US Open, Evans made the third round, beating Bernard Tomic and current World No.8 Kei Nishikori.

Backing up a career-defining moment is one of the hardest things to do in tennis. Since 2012, for example, Nadal has lost early at every Wimbledon and the man to have beaten him has been bounced in the next round every year.

Although Binding lost his semi-final match and admitted to being familiar with the difficulties of reproducing his sensational form, he didn’t show any mental frailties. The 7-6 3-6 6-7 loss to Richard Bloomfield was a bitter pill to swallow but he was positive in defeat.

“If I’d lost two and two it might have put a dampener on my win over Evans. But I fought hard and the margins were small in the end. He had a massive serve and he played the better tie-break.”

Beesley believes Binding was at a physical disadvantage. “Jonny had spent a lot longer on court than his opponent. To have to play the semi-final on the same day as the quarter-final is tough, but that’s the way it works. If Jonny could have come back the next day, it could have been different.”

It’s no coincidence that some of Durham’s best players are performing so well on the Aegon British Tour. Confidence levels within the club are at an all-time high after such a prosperous start to the season. Moreover, Beesley and Binding are both quick to point out that Team Durham have put in place a number of invaluable support structures.

“Adam Barratclough, Graeme Foreman and the Performance Mind Academy have been great”, Binding said. “They’ve really helped us be more professional.”

Beesley echoed those sentiments. “I’m more professional than I used to be, on and off court. My game has matured, I really think about point construction now and try to figure out any weaknesses in my opponent. Also, having the post-grads Milan [Pokrajac] and Kirill [Sinitsyn] as regular hitting partners is really helpful. They’re class and can give lots of advice.”

The University and British tennis scenes now enter a period of hibernation. For Binding, the off-season brings perks and drawbacks, in equal measure. “On the one hand it’s good to have a rest. But also, we’ve been doing so well that it would be nice to keep going. We’ll just have to find a way to carry our form into January.”

Photographs: Team Durham and Dom Beesley

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