Purcell reaches first ATP final in pre-Wimbledon boost

Max Purcell has made a huge breakthrough in the week before Wimbledon, the Australian maverick having battled all the way through qualifying and the main draw to reach his first ATP Tour final at the grass-court Eastbourne International.

Purcell, whose only previous ATP semi-final had been at the same Devonshire Park venue on England's south coast in 2021, repelled another comeback from the British breakout star Billy Harris to prevail 6-4 4-6 6-4 on Friday.

"I've been struggling so this is huge," said the 26-year-old Purcell, who has been in danger of slipping out of the top 100 after his breakthrough 2023 season but now finds himself set to burst back from No.94 at least into the top 70.

And it could get even better for the Sydneysider, who will play top American Taylor Fritz, 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-4) victor over another Australian, Aleksandar Vukic, in the other semi-final.

It's a remarkable upturn in fortunes for the former Wimbledon doubles champ Purcell, who had lost four tour-level matches in a row but, back on his favourite grass-court territory, has now won five - two in qualifying and three more in the main competition - in just six days in Eastbourne.

"New coach this week and I feel like everything's really coming together right before one of my favourite tournaments," said Purcell, who could even emulate compatriot Alex de Minaur, winner in Eastbourne in 2021.

"I think in the first three of my four matches earlier this week, I ended up arse on the ground kind of saving some big points. But the grass feels good; qualifying last week in Halle definitely gave me some some confidence, and I just felt like I'm kind of due to get a couple more wins.

"It was a big crowd today with the Brits cheering against me. I kind of got used to it," he added with a smile, thanking the crowd for creating a great atmosphere.

The late-blooming 29-year-old Harris fell just short of becoming the first Briton to reach the Eastbourne final but found Purcell's extra experience and variety of shot proving too much in the final stanza as the Australian prevailed in two-and-a-quarter hours.

Aleksander Vukic
Aleksandar Vukic came up short in his semi-final as hopes of an all-Australian final evaporated. (AP PHOTO)

But the hopes of a rare all-Australian clash in an ATP final were scotched after 28-year-old 'lucky loser' Vukic, who was also playing just his second tour-level semi-final, just couldn't dent Fritz's brilliant serving as he went down 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-4) in a break-free, serve-dominated affair.

Purcell has his work cut out to stop Fritz becoming the first man to win the Eastbourne event for the third time after victories in 2019 and 2022.

"It's been helping me all week," Fritz said of his 'home court' advantage. "It's extra special here because its where I got my first ever title which I was wanting for such a long time. Hopefully, I'll be back tomorrow to get number three."

It will be the second meeting between the pair, with world No.13 Fritz having defeated Purcell in a close contest in Basel last year.