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Jack Draper warned he is a “completely different player” to the one who briefly stunned Novak Djokovic as he prepares to make a greater impact on his Wimbledon return.
British number four Draper heads to the All England Club buoyed by a fine run at Eastbourne, which was halted at the semi-final stage on Friday by an agonising loss to Maxime Cressy.
The 20-year-old took the opening set against eventual champion Djokovic on his SW19 debut last year before eventually succumbing to defeat.
He believes he is in far better shape to progress deep into the championships on this occasion, partly due to lessons learned from his memorable Centre Court clash with the formidable Serbian.
“My lead-up to playing Novak last year was very different to this year,” said Draper, who will face Belgian wildcard Zizou Bergs in round one of the grand slam next week .
“This year I’ve been able to stay in form, my practice has been more consistent and I’ve been able to get a lot of matches in, whereas last year I was injured pretty much all the way up until Queen’s.
“And then, even when I was playing Djokovic, something was hurting in my body, so I’m a completely different player this year.
“I think he showed me how many weaknesses I still had in my game.
“Obviously I’ve tried to improve that the best I can and I think every year I’m going to be a better player, but definitely this year I’ve improved a lot and I think I’m ready to be fully dangerous.”
Draper’s impressive progress at the Rothesay International brought a maiden ATP Tour semi-final.
He was prevented from becoming the first British male to reach the singles final of the Devonshire Park tournament after Cressy added to a list of British scalps already containing Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie by edging a tense encounter 7-6 (5) 6-7 (2) 6-3.
The towering American serve-volleyer will take on 2019 winner Taylor Fritz in Saturday’s final after he eliminated defending champion Alex De Minaur 6-1 6-7 (5) 6-3.
“He’s a very, very good player, it’s tough to get in your rhythm against him,” Draper said of Cressy.
“He’s serve-volleying the whole time, you don’t get in many rallies, so when you do hit a ground stroke it seems a bit of a shock.
“It was a tough match and one break was all that was in it.”
While Draper will face a far less illustrious player than Djokovic on his second visit to Wimbledon, upcoming opponent Bergs bears an intimidating name of sorts.
The 23-year-old, who won the recent second-tier Challenger tournament in Ilkley, was given the nickname of footballing great Zinedine Zidane by his parents.
“Zizou, I played him in the final of the Challenger earlier this year, he is someone who can play incredible tennis,” said Draper.
“He won at Ilkley, so he’s obviously playing very well on the grass. He’s a fiery player and it’s going to be a really tough match.
“Hopefully for Wimbledon I can increase my level again as I get more used to the grass. I feel confident.”
Draper was roared on by a partisan crowd during a positive week in East Sussex, which followed appearances at Surbiton and Queen’s Club.
He does not regard vocal backing as a burden and hopes it continues next week in south-west London.
“I don’t see that as pressure, it’s a massive privilege,” he said of the home support.
“There has been so many people come to watch and support us Brits – me personally, I love it.
“I’m really looking forward to Wimbledon.”
Two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova will play reigning champion Jelena Ostapenko in the final of the women’s draw at Eastbourne.
Kvitova, who was the beaten finalist in 2011, was in inspired form as she ended the 12-match winning streak of Beatriz Haddad Maia with a thrilling 7-6 (5) 6-4 success.
Eighth seed Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, breezed past Italian Camila Giorgi, winning 6-2 6-2 to keep herself on track to retain her crown.
The Latvian and her Ukrainian partner Lyudmyla Kichenok later progressed to the women’s doubles final, where they will face Aleksandra Krunic and Magda Linette.
Croatians Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic clinched the men’s doubles title by beating Matwe Middelkoop and Luke Saville 6-4 6-2.
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