QUEEN’S CLUB — Rising star Jack Draper says taking on Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon last year has helped him cope with the nerves of playing in front of big crowds after he picked up the biggest win of his career at the Queen’s Club Championships.
Draper beat world No 14 Taylor Fritz 6-3 6-2 in a performance that belied the 85-place deficit between the pair in the world rankings.
The 20-year-old British No 4 broke to lead 3-1 in the first set and never looked back, picking up his first-ever top 20 scalp in just an hour and 17 minutes.
A Junior Wimbledon finalist, Draper has long been tipped by experienced observers as the next star of men’s tennis in Britain, but it was a random draw that put him on Center Court last year to open Wimbledon against defending champion Djokovic.
Day 1 results
- Alex de Minaur, Australia, def. Reilly Opelka (8), United States, 6-4, 6-4.
- Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Spain, def. Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Spain, 7-5, 6-4.
- Jack Draper, Britain, def. Taylor Fritz (4), United States, 6-3, 6-2.
- Alexander Bublik, Kazakhstan, def. Lorenzo Musetti, Italy, 6-3, 0-0, ret.
- Grigor Dimitrov, Bulgaria, def. Cameron Norrie (3), Britain, 6-7 (2), 6-1, 6-4.
- Marin Cilic (7), Croatia, def. Liam Broady, Britain, 6-1 4-6 7-5
“I’ve been lucky at an early age to have opportunities where I’ve have been put in stadiums and against Djokovic for instance,” Draper said of the match where he won the first set but then lost the next three.
“Stuff like that, it definitely really helps. It’s something that I’m becoming more comfortable with.”
He added: “I always like playing in front of loads of people. Last year was very different from this year. There were still some people in the crowd but this is more like what it was when I was a kid when I came here.”
How to watch Queen’s
- dates: Monday 13 June – Sunday 20 June
- Times: Play starts at 12pm
- TV: Weekdays BBC Two and Red Button, weekend BBC One and Red Button
- live stream: BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app
Draper remembers watching Andy Murray, now a regular hitting partner of his, beat Andy Roddick here 11 years ago and having his picture taken next to the trophy, a scene British tennis fans hope may yet be recreated in a more significant way one day.
He would not be dwarfed by the trophy as he was on that occasion, now 6ft 4in and with a ferocious first serve behind which he won 30 of 33 points against Fritz.
His run at Queen’s is even more crucial given he will be losing the 90 ranking points he earned last year by reaching the quarter-finals here, and will also see his Wimbledon points wiped off before the end of the month – although he insists he tries not to let it get in his head.
Draper added: “I have come to the realization if I try and take care of my business on a day‑to‑day basis and my training, doing all the right things off court, on court, trying to give myself the best chance of being in a good position by the end of the year and getting my ranking moving forward – that is the best way I can stay in the present and keep doing the things I am doing to help me get to those goals I want to achieve.”
On arguably the best day of Draper’s career, it was the worst possible start to the grass-court season for British No 1 Cameron Norrie as he was knocked out by 2014 Queen’s champion Grigor Dimitrov.
The South African-born left-hander took a tight first set in a tie-breaker 7-2 but was then blown away in a second set that lasted just 25 minutes.
He did manage to save one match point on his won serve in the decider when Dimitrov’s backhand leaked long, but the Bulgarian managed to serve it out a game later to triumph 6-7(2) 6-1 6-4.
“I think he did a good job of managing his serve and I only had that one game really as a chance,” Norrie said.
“It was impressive from him and I was happy with my level today.”
And Liam Broady was unable to make it two out of three for the Brits on day one at Queen’s despite forcing a deciding set against former Wimbledon finalist and 2022 French Open semi-finalist Marin Cilic before going down 6-1 4-6 7-5 .
Analysis: Draper a nightmare Wimbledon draw for anyone
It is no coincidence that Draper has excelled at Queen’s two years in a row. He has a game practically built for grass. He has a monstrous serve that regularly passes 130 miles an hour, a vicious left-handed forehand and surprising amount of touch around the net.
For players like Sinner and Fritz, for whom the green stuff underfoot is an unwelcome feature of their season, Draper is a tricky opponent to say the least.
He will, if he makes the quarter-finals again this year, go into the Wimbledon draw as one of the names the tour’s abundance of grass-court haters will be hoping to avoid. Last year, he drew Novak Djokovic and took the first set before the top seed hit his straps and won the next three.
Even that result made waves though, and he will be a name that plenty will want to avoid when the Wimbledon draw comes out a week on Friday.
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