Eastbourne Grass Has Brought Out The Best In Purcell This Week

Max Purcell (photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for LTA)

EASTBOURNE/WASHINGTON, June 28, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

All week long, Max Purcell has professed his love of Eastbourne: for its weather, its hospitality and its grass courts. Perhaps, the Australian is really a Brit at heart.

One thing’s certain, though. Grass has brought out the best in Purcell’s tennis this week at the ATP 250 Rothesay International grass-court event on the southeast coast of England. He won two rounds of qualifying last weekend to reach the main draw and, since then, he’s strung together four quality wins – against Laslo Djere, Lorenzo Sonego, Miomir Kecmanovic and Billy Harris – to reach his first tour-level final.

On Friday, the 96th-ranked Australian qualifier from Sydney became the fourth qualifier to reach the final in tournament history. The 26-year-old affable Aussie defeated Harris, a 139th-ranked British wild card from Isle of Man, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, in two hours and 13 minutes on Centre Court.

Purcell joined Kevin Ullyett (1999), Thomas Johansson (2004), and Frank Dancevic (2009) as qualifiers who have reached the Eastbourne final.

On Saturday, Purcell will play World No. 13 and top seed Taylor Fritz of the United States, who beat 81st-ranked lucky loser Aleksandar Vukic of Australia, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), in an hour and 47 minutes in fading daylight on Centre Court.

Fritz (30-12) is a two-time Eastbourne champion (2019, 2022) and, no doubt, will be the favorite in Saturday afternoon’s final against Purcell (10-14).

“I’ve been struggling this year. I have a new coach this week and I feel everything is coming together right before one of my favorite tournaments,” said Purcell in his on-court interview. He came into the tournament riding a four-match losing streak but has turned his game around this week in the final tune-up for the Wimbledon Championships starting Monday. “It feels good [on the grass]. Qualifying last week in Halle gave me confidence, a couple of straight sets matches there. I felt that I was due to get a couple of wins.”

Purcell, who saved both break points he faced in the final set, finished with 21 winners to just nine unforced errors. He converted two of nine break points and outpointed Harris 97-86.

Harris, who was the last remaining of seven British players in the draw, hit 37 winners – including eight aces – but it wasn’t quite enough to advance to the title match.

However, Fritz made the most of the fine margins he faced from Vukic in the second semifinal and he’s safely through to his third Eastbourne final. He fired 15 aces, dropped only two points on his first serve as he won 96 percent (46 of 48) of his first-serve points, and saved the only break point he faced from Vukic.

Fritz finished with 26 winners, made only 11 unforced errors and outpointed his opponent 87-80.

Skupski and Venus win their second straight doubles title on grass

Neal Skupski of Great Britain and Michael Venus of New Zealand won their second straight grass-court doubles title by capturing the Rothesay International crown on Friday. The fourth-seeded British/Kiwi team defeated No. 3 seeds Matthew Ebden and John Peers of Australia, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 11-9, in one hour and 45 minutes on Court 1 Friday afternoon.

The titlists, who saved two championship points along the way, won last week’s cinch Championships at Queen’s Club. They’ve won eight straight matches and will be seeded ninth at the Wimbledon Championships next week.

Ebden and Peers served for the Eastbourne title at 5-4 in the second set. They were one point from winning the crown when they lost a deciding point. Instead, Skupski and Venus, who saved 11 of 13 break points, came alive in the match tie-break. They save another championship point at 8-9 and won the final two points for the title.

“It was very up and down match, very tricky decisions,” Skupski said afterward, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “Them boys played great for nearly all the match. Mike kind of took over at 4-5 down [in the second set], hit some amazing shots. He gave me belief, we stuck around and that is doubles really, it is fine margins. It is great to come away with a win like that, it gives us confidence.”

Around Devonshire Park

No. 6 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia will face unseeded Leylah Fernandez of Canada in Saturday’s Eastbourne women’s singles final.

On Friday, the 14th-ranked Kasatkina (seeded sixth) defeated World No. 7 and third seed Jasmine Paolini of Italy, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, in two hours and 16 minutes on Centre Court.

The other semifinal was won by the 30th-ranked Fernandez over World No. 12 and fourth seed Madison Keys of the United States, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, in two hours and three minutes. Fernandez will playing in her first grass-court final.

Friday’s Eastbourne results

Saturday’s Eastbourne order of play

By the numbers

Taylor Fritz will return to the PIF ATP Rankings No. 1 American spot on Monday, surpassing Tommy Paul, who gained the position a week ago after winning the cinch Championships title at Queen’s Club.

“Quotable …”

“One moment you’re out of the tournament, then you get a second life. I’ve made the most of it.”

— Lucky loser Aleksandar Vukic of Australia, during his on-court interview Thursday. He was eliminated in the final round of qualifying by Yoshihito Nishioka and then beat him in the quarterfinals to advance to his first tour-level semifinal on grass.