Jack Draper was cheered on to Centre Court and two hours later he was roared off it. In between he caused sufficient discomfort to one of the greatest players in history that it seems safe to assume he’ll be back before long.

Not many teenage wild-cards are able to ruffle Novak Djokovic like he did, and fewer still succeed in pushing him around for an entire set.

Of course, it ultimately ended in defeat for this 19-year-old from Surrey, with sets two, three and four being won by the five-time Wimbledon champion for the loss of five games. That was a slapping, the sort we’ve seen against so many top players before and the kind we expected from the off against a Slam debutant here. 

Jack Draper took a shock lead against top seed Novak Djokovic on day one at Wimbledon

Jack Draper took a shock lead against top seed Novak Djokovic on day one at Wimbledon

Jack Draper took a shock lead against top seed Novak Djokovic on day one at Wimbledon

Djokovic struggled to retain his footing and balance during a frenetic opening set

Djokovic struggled to retain his footing and balance during a frenetic opening set

Djokovic struggled to retain his footing and balance during a frenetic opening set

The top seed later stormed back into the contest but praised Draper for his resilience

The top seed later stormed back into the contest but praised Draper for his resilience

The top seed later stormed back into the contest but praised Draper for his resilience

But what a joyless and misplaced exercise it would be to underplay the first set, which Draper won quite brilliantly, and in doing so reinforced the idea that he is the best of the next generation of British players.

He brought a big serve, a devil of a two-handed backhand and enough bloody-mindedness in the face of break points that his ongoing development can be monitored with some confidence. 

He didn’t just poke the bear before getting mauled, he pulled its tail and flicked its snout. Good for him.

Even Djokovic clapped Draper off the court before noting that the world No 253 only came into his consciousness in the past fortnight owing to his run to the quarter-final at Queen’s. The secret of his potential is out of the bag now.

‘He deserves a round of applause,’ said Djokovic. ‘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 – he probably can and should move a bit better. But he’s got a very good base.’ 

A packed Centre Court crowd roared on the English youngster and created a cauldron of noise

A packed Centre Court crowd roared on the English youngster and created a cauldron of noise

A packed Centre Court crowd roared on the English youngster and created a cauldron of noise

From a winner of 19 slams, who will equal Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s record of 20 if he defends his title here, that is halfway decent praise for a player previously best known as the son of Roger Draper, the former chief of the Lawn Tennis Association.

‘It was amazing,’ said the teenager, who had previously played only three tour-level matches. ‘I’m glad the way I handled myself.

‘To win a set against Novak Djokovic on my Wimbledon debut is something I won’t forget. I’ve got a lot of holes in my game still which can still go a long way. I look to come here in the future and show my improvements.’

He left the court to a standing ovation, which in turn followed one that had taken place before the players even arrived on the grass, given the presence in the royal box of Dame Sarah Gilbert, who designed the Oxford COVID vaccine. 

There was a certain irony that she would imminently be watching Djokovic, whose views on vaccination have not always been so well received. 

Djokovic soon battled back, winning the second and third sets on the first day of Wimbledon

Djokovic soon battled back, winning the second and third sets on the first day of Wimbledon

Djokovic soon battled back, winning the second and third sets on the first day of Wimbledon

Those opinions are one factor in the wider puzzle of his popularity, which is not exactly lacking worldwide, but is still way out of keeping with his accomplishments. Certainly compared to Federer and Nadal, anyway.

He was never going to have the crowd in this match, but he could not have known how quickly the atmosphere under the roof on Centre Court would become wild with strange possibilities. 

That is because after holding his opening service game to love, and then failing to capitalise on a break point at 1-0, Djokovic was suddenly in trouble at 1-1, 15-30. The first of many bolting cross-court backhand winners brought Draper to 15-40 and a netted return from Djokovic in the next point had the place going berserk.

On multiple occasions it seemed that the music was about to stop. At 3-2 in front Draper saved two more break points, and at 4-3 there were another four. He aced his way out of the last of those and then closed with another.

After 37 minutes of play, he served out the set 6-4. Djokovic had made nine unforced errors and only six winners, but really it was about the younger kid. With 11 winners and a left-handed serve that reached 126mph he was playing the match of his life.

The defending champions looked to the Wimbledon skies after coming back to avoid defeat

The defending champions looked to the Wimbledon skies after coming back to avoid defeat

The defending champions looked to the Wimbledon skies after coming back to avoid defeat

Needless to say, reality bit hard. He was broken for 2-0 early in the second and again for 5-1. Djokovic saw it out for 6-1 but he at least knew he was in a game. That much was shown with his huge fist pump when he broke for 2-1 at the start of the third. Draper had his respect, even if the match did then run away from him.

It wasn’t a case that Draper’s level dropped significantly – he only made two unforced errors in that second set and seven in the third – but more that Djokovic is equipped to deal far bigger challenges. 

His serve in particular reached a formidably strong level, and indeed he closed the third with an ace having already added a second break.

Two more breaks followed in the fourth before Djokovic wrapped up the match. He will be back on this court imminently; Draper will get another go soon enough.

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