Jack Draper

Jack Draper ready to take on Wimbledon mantle from Andy Murray

If Jack Draper is to be the heir to Andy Murray, he should get used to late nights under lights on Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

Titanic post-watershed battles became a staple of Murray’s near two-decades as the darling of the All England Club, and Draper got his first taste in a five-set thriller against Elias Ymer on Tuesday.

Draper would eventually emerge victorious 3-6 6-3 6-3 4-6 6-3, with the scoreline as topsy-turvy as the match itself.

There were nerves, of course there were, as the new British No.1 took to the SW19 grass with his new status for the first time and was forced to adjust to a late switch from No.2 Court to Centre following Murray’s withdrawal; Draper was quite literally taking the place of the great man.

But the unforced errors of the first set were soon much rarer as the 22-year-old battled his way through and at the very least gave the Wimbledon faithful plenty of time to endear themselves to their new home hope.

“There were times where I did find it a little bit difficult,” he said. “I think towards the end, especially when the lights came on, maybe it was getting a bit dark as well at certain points, it was almost, without knowing it, you kind of get used to playing in a certain way, thinking that’s normal.

“When the lights came on, it felt like all of a sudden it was so easy to see the ball. I think my level went massively higher in the fifth set because of that. My serve, my returns, just the way I was playing.

“I think confidence comes from preparation. I feel like I’ve been building a lot all the time recently on the practice court. I feel like I’m hitting the ball incredibly well.

“There were certain times in the match today where I think, ’cause you don’t often play on big courts, I haven’t experienced Centre too much, it’s a different feel.”

Sport seldom does scripts, and the symbolic passing of the baton from Murray to Draper feels far too well-written for the stresses of elite tennis.

Draper knows he has a long way to go before he is able to even think about emulating Murray’s three Grand Slams and two Olympics golds alongside his status as the icon of British tennis.

There will be a task, too, in becoming the Wimbledon faithful’s new favourites, and while the irregular calls of ‘Come on, Jack’ were yet to reach the heights of ‘Come on, Andy’, that they grew in cadence and volume as the battle went on will give him plenty of hope he is on the right path – even if he insists he is not thinking about it.

“I think it’s going to be tough to emulate what Andy’s achieved,” he added. “It’s obviously unbelievable. He’s won here a couple times. He’s been part of that Big Four era who were just winning constantly, constantly.

“I haven’t thought about that too much. My goal is to keep on doing the right things, keep on doing what I’m doing. I’m improving fast. I’m gaining confidence all the time.

“You can’t think about that too much because otherwise it will just drag you down. You have to think about what’s important, and that’s to wake up every day and try and get better.

“If I just keep on improving, keep on doing my best, I don’t see why I can’t be a great player like Andy has been.”

One thing Murray seldom dealt with in SW19 was the prospect of an all-British battle, but that is what awaits Draper in the second round on Thursday.

Cameron Norrie, the man Draper deposed as British No.1 last month, stands between him and a first-ever third round birth at the All England Club.

Thursday also sees another battle of the Brits, as British women’s No.1 Katie Boulter takes on her No.2 Harriet Dart, while breakout wildcard Jacob Fearnley takes on Novak Djokovic.

“I think it’s going to be a really competitive match on Thursday,” said Draper. “There won’t be any love lost, for sure.

“I haven’t really thought about it too much. Obviously, he won’t like the fact that I’m British No. 1 now. I’m a lot younger.

“Dan [Evans] and Cam definitely probably won’t like seeing me being British No. 1. I think that creates a really healthy rivalry and environment.

“I think we all have great respect for each other. We all want to see each other succeed and do well. It’s nice to practice with him when I can.

“We’re all competitors, we’re all individuals. We want to win. We want to do the best we can.”

For the latest action on the British summer grass court season, check out the LTA website

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