It was Friday the 13th. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that a few wacky events took place at Wimbledon.
But what transpired, from 1 p.m. when John Isner and Kevin Anderson walked onto Centre Court until 11:05 p.m., when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walked off with unfinished business, was beyond anyone’s imagination.
Chapter 3 is called The Other Marathon
WIMBLEDON – Friday afternoon, just beyond Wimbledon’s Centre Court on No. 3 Court, a couple of kids were doing their best to imitate their elders.
As unseeded Jack Draper of Great Britain and No. 5 seed Nicolas Mejia of Colombia headed into a third and deciding set, the games mounted up at nearly the identical pace they were on Centre Court, where John Isner and Kevin Anderson were playing deep into their own deciding, non-tiebreaked set.
The juniors don’t play a tiebreak at Wimbledon either. And when it was over, and Draper had won it 19-17 in the fifth, it clocked in at four hours, 24 minutes.
You could call it child cruelty. At 16, Draper had played just three three-setters through the entire 2018 junior season. Two of them ended with 6-0 sets. And the other ended up with an injury retirement at 4-1.
He had posted a pair of three-set comeback wins in the previous two rounds. And now, he was faced with this.
Draper will have one day to try to recover before he faces No. 1 seed Chun-Hsin Tseng.
Tseng reached the final of the junior Australian Open, losing to Sebastian Korda. He didn’t drop a set in winning the junior French Open.
And he barely broke a sweat in his own semifinal, losing just four games in defeating Mu Tao of China.
The 10th is the charm
Draper could have avoided all the pain and suffering, had he converted his first match point in the second-set tiebreaker.
Or any of the nine he had before he finally sealed the deal. But it wasn’t only up to him, as Mejia fought brilliantly.
But Draper will be battered, as he attempts to be the first British junior boy since 1962 to take the title. (A decade ago, 14-year-old Laura Robson took the junior girls’ singles title).
“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, yeah,” he said afterwards. “I’ve already been on the bike, I’ve been in the ice bath. I’ve tried to get some food down me.”
As with the Anderson-Isner match, which ended up turning on a wacky, unexpected lefthanded forehand from Anderson, Draper’s win was clinched on a shot he was sure he would miss.
“I was 100 per cent I was going to miss that smash because actually my coach Ryan had been saying how bad my smash, my footwork to get behind that exact smash. 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,” Draper said, smiling. “But I can’t really remember most of it (afterwards). 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.”
Clock ticking on junior career
Mejia, the sixth-best junior in the world to Draper’s No. 41, had never shown his best in singles on the biggest stages at the Grand Slams. His ranking has been built with great results at lower-level tournaments.
The 18-year-old from Bogotá is one of the oldest in the boys’ singles draw, having turned that age back in February. He has just one Slam left, at the US Open in September, to try to have that moment to define – and wrap up – his junior career.
Imagine saving nine match points, pushing yourself beyond what you could ever fathom, and going home the loser instead of being one step away from the trophy.
Mejia was, understandably, distraught.
“Yeah, I mean, I was thinking, well, I can’t celebrate too much because what if I was on the other side. I know I’d be destroyed if I lost that match,” Draper said.