Jack Draper is Britain’s next big thing in tennis with hopes he can make the elite
It’s not even 8 a.m., but the tennis academy in Winchmore Hill is buzzing with activity.
Next to pristine clay courts, former national team manager Alan Jones shouts encouragement to promising juniors, while his son Ryan organizes training drills and knocks former World No. 5 Jo Durie to the brink of the professional game with a handful of talents.
As you soak up the air of zealous enthusiasm, you’ll understand why Jack Draper chose to move to this north London suburb to get his game back.
The young Jack Draper is currently widely regarded as the best candidate in British tennis
As the bright kid of British men’s tennis, it would have provided both the work ethic needed to develop his talent and the privacy Draper presumably needed to deal with his personal problems.
“Jack’s a really nice guy,” Durie tells the… Post on Sunday† “But we were all worried about him. He was in a dark place. He really didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. And when someone gets into that state, you worry about him.
“With a young person like Jack, you hope they can overcome these thoughts and enjoy life. Enjoy what is and what is possible, especially in tennis. It can bring you some beautiful places and be really joyful. It doesn’t always have to be the grind.’
The 20-year-old’s father is Roger Draper, former chief executive of the LTA
In his early years as a promising junior, Draper was popularly known as the son of Roger, former chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association. The perceived benefits this gave him were, as Draper himself admits, a source of jealousy among young rivals.
But his potential was undeniable and he started working with Ryan as his personal coach as early as 2017, with Jones Jr impressing in partnership with Kyle Edmund.
At the time, Draper wasn’t even the most promising Brit in his age group, but Ryan’s tough love helped him survive the pitfalls of late adolescence, reaching the Junior Wimbledon final in 2018.
The same year, he turned pro and embarked on the often grueling slog of Futures tournaments where a young player learns their trade.
By the time it closed, Draper seemed to have lost love for the game and wasn’t sure where his future lay. A growth spurt had affected his coordination and his movement around the court was not fluid.
“For guys around that time, 18, 19, 20, when they tend to grow, their coordination isn’t great,” says Durie, recalling the year Draper was training at the Junior Elite Tennis Academy, where he stayed at Alan’s house several nights a week.
“Their fitness is affected because their bodies use up all the energy to grow and it’s quite difficult for them to build muscle and the strength you need.”
But Draper lost his love for the sport during the lockdown and did not know where his future lay
The youngster decided to enroll in two distance learning courses, including one in criminology
The entry into adulthood naturally brings its own emotional demands, and Draper apparently felt them acutely. With Ryan’s encouragement, his team took a full break from tennis to find out if he was hungry to make it a success.
He was the thoughtful type and enrolled in two distance learning courses, including one in criminology. Alan remembers discussing its nuances with Draper during conversations that often ran into the early hours. Topics covered also included life on tour and Draper ultimately chose to give it back, albeit without his mind being completely free.
When he took a set from Novak Djokovic in the first round of Wimbledon, his tournament debut, last year, only those close to Draper knew that he was still grappling with personal issues. “You never know what’s going on in someone’s head, right?” says Durie.
Draper’s mother Nicky, a former British Junior Champion, has been a close ally throughout his career thus far. His parents are divorced and it is clear that Draper’s relationship with his father has been less straightforward, although it has eased lately.
Something definitely clicked into place over the past six months or so. Now 20, Draper became the first player to win four Challenger tournaments in the first quarter of the season.
Draper took a set from Novak Djokovic in the first round of Wimbledon last year, his SW19 debut
Mainly suited to grass, Draper defeated world No14 Taylor Fritz at Queen’s this month
Particularly suited to grass, he then defeated World No. 14 Taylor Fritz at Queen’s and reached his first ATP Tour semi-final at Eastbourne, beating No. 15 Diego Schwartzman along the way.
The run propelled him into the top 100 in the world, suggesting that Draper could once again wow British fans this week at Wimbledon, where Belgian wildcard Zizou Bergs awaits in the first round.
Although Ryan broke up with Draper late last year, his development is a reward for the years he’s spent fine-tuning his raw edges. A natural with his backhand, Draper has turned his serve into a weapon and developed significantly on the forehand side.
His footwork still offers some room for improvement, but the aggression that kept him going as a raw teenager is undiminished. While he’s reluctant to put undue pressure on Draper, Ryan agrees with academy colleagues that their former charges could at least break the top 20 in the world.
He will take on the Belgian wildcard Zizou Bergs in the first round in the All England Club on Monday
“He was always a big competitor,” Ryan says. “But he had to develop weapons. That was my biggest question about his game at the beginning: would he respond to what I was looking for? Would he respond to the truth? And he did. Then you think, okay, this guy has the mentality to possibly do some damage.
“There was a phase where he went through some uncertainty. He had made great strides and it was all getting a bit overwhelming. Because while he’s a tough guy, he’s also sensitive. He’s a great thinker and if you’re someone who thinks a lot at that age, you might be wondering where you’re going.
“But he had that time to reassess his life and he came back and thankfully he’s fine.”
How wonderful we should discover this week.