Proud Jack Draper determined to build on battling defeat to Novak Djokovic

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Jack Draper vowed to use his experience of taking on Novak Djokovic to ensure he is back on Centre Court sooner rather than later.

Nineteen-year-old Draper has long been marked out as a star of the future and he showed why on his Wimbledon debut, seizing his big moment to take the first set against the two-time defending champion and prohibitive favourite.

It was the first set Djokovic had lost in the first round at SW19 for 11 years, but the world number one took control early in the second and ultimately eased to a 4-6 6-1 6-2 6-2 victory.

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“It was amazing,” said Draper, who reached the junior final in 2018. “I thought the atmosphere was incredible today, playing against such an amazing player like Novak, someone that we all admire. It was a great opportunity and experience for me. I’m glad the way I handled myself today.

“I didn’t want to give him too much respect. I wanted to win the match today. I wasn’t looking to put in a good performance and lose.

“To win a set against Novak Djokovic on my Wimbledon debut is something I won’t forget. Hopefully in years to come I can improve on that.”

Tickets were sold online this year rather than through the usual ballot and Centre Court certainly had a different, more vibrant atmosphere, which was amplified by the closed roof.

Jack Draper acquitted himself well on his Wimbledon debut
Jack Draper acquitted himself well on his Wimbledon debut (John Walton/PA)

The day began with a standing ovation for the guests in the Royal Box who had contributed to Britain’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, including Dame Sarah Gilbert, the architect of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

Djokovic had not played a singles match on grass since his dramatic five-set victory over Roger Federer in the 2019 final, while Draper announced his talent to the wider British public with his first two tour-level victories at Queen’s Club.

Djokovic took a while to find his feet back on the surface – literally, the world number one falling to the turf twice during the first set and shooting frustrated looks towards his box.

Dame Sarah Gilbert (centre) applauds in the Royal Box
Dame Sarah Gilbert (centre) applauds in the Royal Box (John Walton/PA)

One of those tumbles came on a break point in Draper’s first service game and in the next game the young British hope capitalised with a break of serve of his own.

He saved seven break points in all to claim the first set, using his excellent backhand to match Djokovic from the baseline and keeping his head impressively under pressure.

He earned a standing ovation when he held serve to take the opening set but that was the high point, with Djokovic, who served 25 aces, not looking back after he opened up a 3-0 lead in the second.

Novak Djokovic slipped several times
Novak Djokovic slipped several times (Simon Bruty/AELTC)

Djokovic was impressed by Draper’s game, saying: “He’s tall, he’s strong. He’s got that lefty serve that is very awkward for right-handed players to face, particularly on grass.

“I thought he was behaving nice on the court. He was backing himself. It was a really nice atmosphere. I think he’s got an all-around game really. A very good flat backhand, also a good forehand.

“Maybe his movement could improve I think. But he’s still young. There’s always room for improvement.”

Draper’s progress has been hampered by a number of injury issues associated with growing, while he also contracted coronavirus in January.

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He agreed with Djokovic, saying: “My movement definitely needs to improve. I’ve got a lot to improve on physically, which I will do throughout the rest of the year. My body has changed a lot over the last few years. It’s been quite tough for me.

“As Novak showed me today, I’ve still got a lot to improve on. I’m glad he did because I’ve still got lots to come.

“For the rest of the year I’ll look to stay on court, be healthy, keep on improving. I feel like I can use this momentum and motivation to go forward.”

Djokovic rated his serving performance as one of the best of his career and also said he would be happy to alternate the honour given to the men’s champion of opening Centre Court on the first Monday of the tournament with the women’s winner, who traditionally plays first on the Tuesday.

“That would be nice to see,” he said. “They deserve it. I will be in favour for it.”

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