This time last year, Dan Evans was going through the motions in Wrexham knowing that the bright lights of New York were as distant as ever. Fast forward 12 months and the difference is scarcely believable.
Evans has long been trumpeted as a serious tennis talent, but one let down by an inability to curb a wildside which threatened to derail a future in the game. Far too often for the LTA's liking the 23 year-old found himself in trouble, severely lacking the focus and concentration levels needed to make strides. Yet, crucially, they stuck by this likeable lad from Birmingham because they knew, deep down, the boy could play. And so it proved.
On Court 13 yesterday, Evans brilliantly dismantled the No.11 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to produce the result of his life and set up an intriguing encounter with fellow miscreant Bernard Tomic of Australia. Twice Evans was down a break in the opening two sets. Twice he responded with heart, courage and large douse of skill.
There were shades of just what the British No.2 was capable of earlier this year when he stepped up to the plate superbly in the Davis Cup tie against Russia, playing out of his skin to win the deciding final rubber. This felt more seismic. "I knew I was a good player, but I just hadn't put it all together," he said. "I was pretty calm. It wasn't that much of a big deal what was happening on court. I wasn't nervous serving it out."
Evans had already impressed by becoming the first British male for seven years to come through grand-slam qualifying to reach the main draw. Speaking to the world No.179 on Sunday, he gave the serious impression of someone who was not overawed or worried one bit about coming up against a player of Nishikori's standing. That confident demeanour didn't evaporate once a racket was in his hand. Evans mixed up his game brilliantly, slicing the Japanese to distraction while volleying with a stellar mix of confidence and solidity. A solid six week training block in the US has provided him with the fitness and power to produce when it counts.
"Everyone at the LTA has shown a lot of belief in me, rightly or wrongly. So I've got them to thank, as well," said Evans. "I was playing Wrexham last year. And I certainly prefer to be playing in New York than Wrexham, that's for sure. It just shows it can change pretty quickly if you get your stuff together. At the start of the year I was playing futures. I guess it's the way it works sometimes."
Winning $52,000 for getting through the first round represents the best pay day by far for the Solihull native and the potential rewards perhaps contributed to a nervy start, Evans dropping serve inside 10 minutes before wasting three break points and the chance to pull level. Nishikori, who lacks the power to blow players off court yet has the ability to pull opponents all over the court, was out of sorts. Yet for all the Japanese's errors - his serve was off key as he recorded eight double faults, the last one handing Evans the win - the Englishman was superb.
Laura Robson, meanwhile, enjoyed an easier first-round win, beating Lourdes Dominguez Lino 7-5, 6-0. The British No.1, seeded for the first time at a slam, showed the rustiness expected of a player who has played just twice since Wimbledon because of a wrist problem before eventually easing through the gears. "I'm only in the second round, but we'll take it one match at a time," she said.
Robson was especially pleased to see compatriot Evans also come through to join her in the second round, where she will play another Spaniard, Caroline Garcia. "I think Dan is a very interesting character," said Robson, hardly able to keep the grin off her face. "He's got a Jesus tattoo. I mean, if you've ever spoken to him, he's really not the most religious person. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
"Still, I think he can be a really great player. He's come through the last couple weeks and I saw the last couple of games today and he played really well."
Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, continued his hard-court roll with a straightforward 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Ryan Harrison.
The Spaniard, who missed the tournament last year during his seven-month break with knee problems, came through 6-4 6-2 6-2 in two hours and six minutes.