This is a great matchup featuring two very interesting players. Cressy is the most unique talent in tennis today, owing to his throwback style, and Draper is a rising young star whose game is not only fun to watch, but who adds a classic element here in being an Englishman playing on the grass. Something feels right about that, and something feels right about an Englishman playing on the grass against a serve-and-volleying American. This match should be completely unpredictable, and will be a big step forward for whichever player moves on to the final.
ATP Eastbourne Semifinal Preview: Jack Draper vs Maxime Cressy
Paths to the Semis
First let’s start with the Englishman playing on home soil. British tennis is experiencing a breakthrough on grass this season, with the rise of both Jack Draper and Ryan Peniston. The two Brits have exceeded expectations recently, and squared off in the quarterfinals, although Peniston got the short end of the stick by having to play his second match of the day after a previous day’s interruption. But a tired Peniston was not the culmination of Draper’s success, as he has come through a difficult draw, first vanquishing Jenson Brooksby and then Diego Schwartzman. That’s an impressive set of wins for the young Brit, and he now has the look of a player who believes that he belongs on the ATP Tour.
Cressy has established himself by this point as a dangerous serve-and-volley player who brings the element of the unknown to his matches, that unknown quality being whether his opponent (low or high-ranked) is prepared to handle a style that he never otherwise sees on tour. It can be a highly mixed bag with Cressy, but his success this tournament has been as good as ever, with his draw being even more difficult than Draper’s. Cressy has come through fellow serve-and-volleyer Reilly Opelka, then Dan Evans, and finally Cam Norrie (apparently being given the entire British vanguard to fight through this tournament). And he has reached the semis in straight sets (as has Draper, in fact). This is easily Cressy’s highest level since reaching the finals of Melbourne in January.
This is a match of unknowns. It is always questionable how an opponent will respond to Cressy’s style, and even moreso here with a player just making his way onto the tour. But in addition to Draper’s greenness, there is the added uncertainty of how players will perform on grass. Most players have extremely limited experience, and such is the case here, with a total of only 17 matches between them (over a third of those coming this week).
We have seen inexperienced players destroy expectations the last couple weeks, like Sebastian Baez winning his first ever attempt on grass against a good grass court player in Jordan Thompson, and even more striking was the finals victory of world #205 Tim van Rijthoven over Daniil Medvedev in Hertogenbosch. Inexperience on grass plus the uniqueness of Cressy’s style makes more a highly unpredictable match here.
A Classic Matchup from 1980
In baseline battles, Draper will win. He has a clean and heavy forehand that reminds me of Jiri Vesely and Feliciano Lopez, and a powerful and compact two-handed backhand that handles lower-pace well and is flat and accurate. Cressy does not have the baseline firepower to keep up with that, which is the reason he turned to serve-and-volley in the first place as a college player.
This is a McEnroe vs. Borg matchup, where Cressy will seek to move to the net at the first opportunity, and Draper will play a game of trying to pass the long-armed American at the net. (Although Draper’s other option would be to hit straight back at Cressy as he’s moving forward, and force a deep and imprecise volley that allows his to set his feet for a clean second strike.)
At the net, Cressy is one of the best, and surely has the best serve-and-volley sequences on tour. His serve+1 is very smooth, especially with a backhand volley to the open court from the deuce side. And these sequences are augmented against Draper even when imperfect, because the Brit does not have the fastest reaction time. So even if Cressy gets an imperfect look, if he can quickly put the ball back into Draper’s body, it can open up a weak return.
On the Run
The other major factor in this match, as with all Draper’s matches, is his movement. Though it seems to have improved since last year, he is still one of the slower players on tour. This is less of a problem against careful players who tend to hit back toward the middle, like the classic counterpuncher, but Cressy is the opposite. He probes the corners with his net volleys, and constantly seeks to hit away from his opponent. This will keep Draper on the run, where he is not at his best (although if he can get to the ball, he has a good running forehand).
This should be a great match to watch. Draper is improving dramatically, and is currently at his best, and one of the iconic sights in tennis is a quality English player playing deep in a grass court tournament. Cressy always brings something fresh to the tour with his style, and his throwback tactics give this match the feel of something from a past generation. It should feature a classic tussle between baseline and net, with both players producing high-quality tennis when they can assert their style over the other. Both players should be fighting hard, as a move to the finals would be a big step for each of them. And with the outcome as unpredictable as it appears to be, and the crowd support for Draper likely to be ultra-high, this could be a dramatic and entertaining semifinal.
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