British Wild Card Harris Wins Memorable Eastbourne Debut

Billy Harris (photo: Kate Green/Getty Images for LTA)

EASTBOURNE/WASHINGTON, June 24, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Billy Harris will always remember his debut at Eastbourne. That’s because it was a winning effort for the 139th-ranked British wild card, who has garnered plenty of attention during the English grass-court season leading up to next week’s Wimbledon Championships.

On Monday, as main-draw play began at the 29th edition of the ATP 250 Rothesay International in the resort town of Eastbourne on the southeast coast of England, Harris christened play on the pristine Centre Court during a glorious day at Devonshire Park with a 6-4, 7-6 (7) victory over 271st-ranked British wild card Jacob Fearnley in an hour and 37 minutes.

Harris rallied from 1-4 down during the second-set tie-break and won the first-round match on his third match-point try. He saved a set point at 6-7 early during the tie-break much to his relief. Throughout, the 29-year-old Nottingham native showed plenty of competitiveness and resilience in winning his third tour-level match in four outings this season spread over the past two weeks.

Against Fearnley, 22, who won a Challenger title at Nottingham earlier this month, Harris struck 23 winners – including 10 aces – made just 10 unforced errors, and saved the only break point he faced. He outpointed Fearnley 74-64.

“Great atmosphere out here today. The crowd was amazing,” Harris said during his on-court interview. “First time [for me] in Eastbourne. It felt great out there.”

Last week, Harris was a surprise quarterfinalist in the cinch Championships at Queen’s Club in west London. He upset Tomas Martin Etcheverry of Argentina and Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard of France before losing to eventual finalist Lorenzo Musetti of Italy.

Harris was asked how much confidence he gained from his quarterfinal run at Queen’s Club and if he could apply it against Fearnley. “I definitely gained some confidence from last week. At the same time, I knew this was going to be a very tough match,” he said. “Jacob won his last tournament – he beat a lot of good players – so I knew I had to be really on my game for this match.”

The 6-foot-4 Harris, who has spent much of the season playing on the ATP Challenger Tour, reached the semifinals earlier this month in back-to-back grass events in Surbiton and Nottingham. He’s 23-20 in all competitions this season.

Next, Harris will face British lucky loser Charles Broom, who replaced No. 2 seed Tommy Paul of the United States, in the draw Monday afternoon. Paul, who won the Queen’s Club title on Sunday to become the new American No. 1, pulled out of the Wimbledon tune-up citing fatigue. While Paul moved up to World No. 12 in the PIF ATP Rankings, Harris is competing at a career-best ranking after his last eight finish at Queen’s Club. He’s looking to crack the Top 100.

Regardless of how Harris fares this week, he’s already guaranteed a wild card berth in the main draw next week at Wimbledon, a big step up from having to toil through qualifying at Roehampton, in which last year he was eliminated in the final round.

“It’s been amazing the last few weeks,” Harris said, flashing a smile. “Hopefully, I can continue in this tournament and, hopefully, after at Wimbledon.”

Shang upsets Etcheverry to earn first tour win on grass

No. 7 seed Tomas Martin Etcheverry of Argentina, ranked 31st, was upset by 104th-ranked Chinese qualifier Shang Juncheng, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (4), in two hours and 25 minutes. It was Shang’s first tour-level win on grass.

The 19-year-old lefty, nicknamed “Jerry” after the Tom & Jerry cartoon character, struck fired 39 winners and won on his second match point. He improved to 9-10 against Top 50 opponents.

“It’s the first time I think I’ve ever played this well on grass,” Shang said in his on-court interview. “Amazing courts, I love this place … I hope to have a good run this year.”

Currently third in the PIF ATP Live Race To Jeddah, Shang plays either No. 44 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain or No. 88 Emil Ruusuvuori in the second round on Wednesday.

Around Devonshire Park

• American Marcos Giron, who last week was selected to the U.S. Olympic tennis team, knocked off 2023 Eastbourne champion and this year’s fifth seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), in one hour and 40 minutes. Giron, who is coming off a quarterfinal run at Halle, won 89 percent of his first-serve points, hit 24 winners, did not face any break points and outpointed his opponent 82-74. Next, Giron will face either 146th-ranked British wild card Liam Broady or Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka, ranked 102nd, who play Tuesday.

• Australian lucky loser Aleksandar Vukic advanced to the second round with a 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 45 Fabian Marozsan of Hungary in 64 minutes. The 81st-ranked Vukic hit 24 winners and outpointed Marozsan 57-44. Next, he will face No. 3 seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, ranked 23rd.

• Australian qualifier Max Purcell, ranked 94th, recovered from a mid-match dip in levels and came on strong at the end to beat No. 52 Laslo Djere of Serbia, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, in one hour and 59 minutes. Ten of Purcell’s 24 winners were service aces and he converted five of 12 break-point chances. Purcell outpointed Djere 91-73 in snapping a four-match tour-level losing streak. Next, Purcell will face either 36th-ranked and eighth seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina or No. 57 Lorenzo Sonego of Italy, who play Tuesday.

Monday’s Eastbourne results

Tuesday’s Eastbourne order of play 

By the numbers

The oldest player in the 28-player draw is 34-year-old Kei Nishikori of Japan, while the youngest is Shang Juncheng of China at 19.

“Quotable …”

“It’s amazing to be playing on home soil and in front of the British fans. I really enjoyed playing at Queen’s Centre Court – it was always a dream of mine to play there and at Wimbledon. That has definitely been number one in my career so far.

“I’m very excited [for Wimbledon]. Again, I’ve always wanted to play main draw there and I know it’s going to be a special day stepping out on court there.”

— British No. 5 Billy Harris, during his post-match news conference Monday, following his win over fellow British player Jacob Fearnley.