On a day of marathons at Wimbledon, Britain’s Jack Draper came through his own test of endurance to reach the Boys Final, taking 4 hours and 24 minutes to defeat a tearful 6th seed, Nicolas Mejia of Colombia, 7-5 6-7 19-17
It was the longest junior’s match at the All England Club since 2002 when Ryan Henry beat Clement Morel in 4 hours, 42 minutes.
Draper is now within one match of ending the host nation’s title 56-year drought in the Boys event.
I think it was sort of just a massive relief to actually have the match over after so many sort of, you know, torture, match points, him playing very well in them. But, yeah, I think I did very well in the end. I was just very happy, of course Jack Draper
Draper needed 10 match points to finally clinch the semi-final match, having in the second set tiebreak missed a backhand down the line on the first.
After completing an overhead he was convinced he would also miss, the 16-year-old fell onto his back and completed a celebratory backward roll.
“I was 100% [sure] I was going to miss that smash because actually my coach Ryan [Jones] had been saying how bad my smash [was], my footwork [was] to get behind that exact smash,” said Draper, the son Roger Draper, the former head of the LTA.
“Yeah, I knew I was going to miss it. I don’t know how I made it. I must have hit the frame or something.
“It was torture for me, but I was glad to get it done in the end, yeah,” he added of the match points Mejia saved.
”I don’t think anything can ever really prepare you for that as a junior tennis player.’’
“I can’t really remember most of it,” he admitted, acknowledging he was aware of the men’s semi-final, into the 45th game of their fifth set, when the boys finished.
“I think it was sort of just a massive relief to actually have the match over after so many sort of, you know, torture, match points, him playing very well in them. But, yeah, I think I did very well in the end. I was just very happy, of course.”
Draper is fortunate that the boys final is not scheduled until Sunday, and he is out of doubles, so he has all day on Saturday to recover, while the British press focuses on the country’s first boys finalist since Liam Broady in 2011.
Although Andy Murray has seen to it that Fred Perry’s name is no longer mentioned regularly at Wimbledon, Stanley Matthews, son of the former football great Sir Stanley, is Perry’s junior equivalent, the last British boy to win the junior title, back in 1962, but Draper had never heard of him.
“1962? Wow,” said Draper, whose pain was both physical and mental, and who on Sunday will meet junior World No 1 Chun Hsin Tseng for the trophy match on Court No 1.
“For one, I can’t feel my legs,” Draper smiled. “Apart from that, yeah, I’m overwhelmed by it all. I was happy with the way I sort of came through it. But, yeah, no, I’m totally overwhelmed.
“I don’t think anything can really prepare you for that sort of match as, like, a junior player.
“That’s probably the longest match I’ve had, but I was having loads of bananas, loads of sort of electrolytes. That’s what kept me going.
“I’ve already been on the bike, I’ve been in the ice bath. I’ve tried to get some food down me. But, yeah, I’ll definitely be feeling it whatever happens tomorrow. I have to try to prepare as best as possible for Sunday.”
Draper will be facing a much more experienced opponent in the final in the top seeded Tseng, who reached his third junior slam final of the year with a 61-minute 6-3 6-1 victory over unseeded Tao Mu of China.
Tseng, who lost in the Australian Open final and won the French title, says that clay is his favourite surface, but with five consecutive straight-sets win, he has proven that he is a quick study on grass.
“Last year I also played Wimbledon and that helped me a lot, to get used to it,” said the 16-year-old, who lost in the first round in singles and doubles.
“But on clay, I can have more rhythm and more rallies and much more strength.”
Tseng, who often trains at the Mouratoglou Academy in France when he is not competing in tournaments, is the first player from Chinese Taiper to reach the Wimbledon boys final.
Although only a few months older than Draper, Tseng has a decided edge in experience on the biggest stages in junior tennis, and he recognises that, and his French title, are advantages for him.
“It gives me more confidence, and makes me stronger mentally,” said Tseng, who has yet to drop a set in the Championships. “When there is pressure in the final, I can relax and just play my best tennis.”
The girls final on Saturday will feature two first-time Grand Slam finalists when qualifier Leonie Kung of Switzerland faces unseeded Iga Swiatek of Poland.
Kung and Swiatek prevented an all-Chinese, all-Wang final, with the Swiss Miss defeating 10th seed Xiyu Wang, 6-4 6-7(6) 6-3, and the Pole downing 4th seed Xinyu Wang, 7-5 7-6(1).
Only the second qualifier to reach the Wimbledon girls final, with Russia’s Anna Tchakvetadze the first, back in 2003, Kung, who received entry into Wimbledon Junior qualifying via her WTA ranking, now 417, failed to qualify for the French Open Junior championships last month, so her march to the final this week is something of a surprise.
“It’s your biggest dream when you come to Wimbledon, but when it really happens, it’s unbelievable,” said the 17-year-old from the German-speaking part of Switzerland.
“It’s so nice, I’m so, so happy that I was able to win this match.”
Kung served for the match at 5-4, then had two match points at 6-4 in the second set tiebreak, one on her serve, but Wang won the final four points to pull even.
She got a second chance after breaking Wang at 3-4, and this time her first serve didn’t desert her, with two good ones from 30-all finishing off Wang.
Kung recognised the challenge that the big-hitting left-hander presented.
“I think especially with players that hit flat and hard, you have to extremely ready in the head and also in your legs,” Kung said.
“If you’re really ready, you can use the power and put the shots in the different corners, but you have to be really focused and look at the ball, hit it cleanly. That’s really tough to do that through a whole match.”
Swiatek, who prefers to play with top spin, said the pace she was getting from Xinyu Wang was keeping her on her heels early in the match.
“Two times I fell on my back because she was playing so fast,” said Swiatek, who received entry into the main draw by virtue of her WTA ranking, which was 264 at the cutoff date.
“There are not many players in junior tennis that are playing that fast, and it was really hard to play with her.”
Swiatek fell behind early in both sets, but portrayed no doubt in her body language.
“There is inside, but I try to hide it,” Swiatek said. “My coach always told me I am the best, and I try to believe it. She learned me how to stay positive and I still try to do better.”
Swiatek served for the match at 5-3 but didn’t come close to a match point, although she did have two with Wang serving at 4-5.
Wang, who is at 461 in the WTA rankings, fought those off and held in a deuce game to force a tiebreak, but Swiatek took a 3-0 lead with an audacious backhand drop shot winner and Wang could not recover.
Although she resembled countrywoman Agnieszka Radwanska with her low-to-the-ground defence, Swiatek says she has not modelled her game after either of the sisters, with Agnieszka winning the Wimbledon girls title in 2005 and Urszula in 2007.
The closest she has come to a relationship with them is playing Fed Cup under captain Dawid Celt, husband of former World No 2 Agnieszka.
The 17-year-old now has something in common with the two former Wimbledon girls’ champions – a place in the junior final at the All England Club.
“I didn’t have any idols actually,” said Swiatek. “I was too focused on my own play to watch much tennis. Right now it’s changed.
“After my first Grand Slam I realised how great it is to watch pro tennis players, so it’s a new thing for me.”
Swiatek is looking forward to the final, but also expressed some nervousness at the prospect.
“I’m excited, but [it’s] stressful as well,” Swiatek said. “It will be a great experience to play on Court No 1. I don’t know what to think about it, I’m too overwhelmed.”
Having declared after her second round match at SW19 that clay was her favourite surface, and grass not so good for her game, her journey at Wimbledon is as surprising as that of her opponent’s.
“Right now I don’t know what [surface] I like. I like to play topspin and on the grass it’s not really a good weapon, so I had to learn how to play on grass and I think I did it well, and hopefully I will have more opportunities to develop my play.’’
The pair played at the European championships when Kung was 14 and her opponent 13, and a weary Swiatek won one of her first ever three-set matches.
The only time she has been taken the full distance this week was against top seed Whitney Osuigwe in the opening round.
“My conditioning coach always told me I’m the best and I try to believe it. She’s very supportive, she learned me how to stay positive and how to stay calm. I still try to do it better but right now it’s good.’’
Kung’s week has also exceeded expectations, for the last qualifier to reach the Girls’ final was Russian Anna Chakvetadze, who lost the 2003 final to Kirsten Flipkens.
“It’s so nice. I’m so, so happy that I was able to win this match and that I’m in the finals now,’’ said Kung, the world No 509.
“It’s your biggest dream when you come to Wimbledon, but that it really happens? It’s amazing. It’s just unbelievable.”
Her parents and sister are making the trip over from the family’s horse farm near Switzerland’s border with Germany.
The last Swiss girl to have won a Wimbledon final was Belinda Bencic, the champion in 2013.
“I’ve seen the [honours] board and many players that won this tournament were good later on in the professional tour,’’ said Kung. “So that’s really nice to see, and it makes me excited.’’
As does playing on Court No 1.
“Oh, that’s nice. When you go on the court and you’re in such a big stadium, it’s crazy. You know that so many good players played already on that court and to have Hawk-Eye it’s just amazing.’’