On his way to the Masters in Paris, Jack Draper took the tube from his home in Surrey to St. Pancras in London for the Eurostar, carrying his racket and bags.
“Nobody recognized me, so it’s pretty good nobody knows who I am at this point—maybe they will if I do something bigger,” he thought, standing in the bowels of Bercy stadium.
The idea that his closest contemporary and friend Emma Raducanu could travel incognito on the subway is unthinkable.
Britain’s 20-year-old Jack Draper has had an exceptional year with many more to come
That could soon be the case for 20-year-old Draper, if Andy Murray’s recent assessment proves correct that he will be “on top of the game in the next 18 months.”
Of course, he’s yet to do something seismic like winning the US Open, but he’s breaking new ground this week by becoming Britain’s first representative at the NextGen Finals in Milan. This is the ATP event for the world’s top eight under-21 players of the season.
Draper qualifies thanks to its steepling rise in 2022 from a starting point of 265 to 41, with some notable performances in recent months.
He’s by far the biggest jump from anyone to make it into the top 50 this year (Murray is actually fourth on the list at +86).
At the US Open, Draper defeated Felix Auger-Aliassime in straight sets, before losing 7-5 in the deciding set to New York champion Carlos Alcaraz two weeks ago. Both have qualified for the most important eight-man ATP Finals in Turin this month.
Draper was in action at the Rolex Paris Masters this week after an outstanding year
“A year ago I was at a club in Germany to play a Challenger event, I was trying to work my way up and now I can play on big stages. There would certainly have been an element of surprise then if you’d told me I’d be in the top 50 in the world,” said Draper, who had just come off the track after knocking out Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech in front of a partisan crowd on the road. huge main arena.
“This is exactly what I’ve wanted since I was younger, to play these types of players at this level and have such an audience, so you know you’re capable of dealing with that kind of thing.
“I remember playing against Gael Monfils in Montreal (this summer) and it was similar because they are behind French players there. I played Alcaraz in front of 10,000 people in Basel last week and it was a great experience.
“You can build these guys into great players in your head and don’t get me wrong, Alcaraz is a great player, he is the number 1 in the world for a reason.
He took a memorable straight-set win over Felix Auger-Aliassime at the US Open
“But the experience of playing these guys has taught me that I’m not that far off. That’s the biggest lesson of this year, plus the things I need to do right, maybe get more aggressive and get stronger physically.”
The irony will not be lost that Draper is the son of Roger, the former Chief Executive of the Lawn Tennis Association.
Until 2013, he struggled for seven years to get some production line of British talent going, though he could point to the gradual revival that has since been seen as proof it wasn’t all in vain.
Mother Nicky is a coach and former top British junior, and has been instrumental in developing the young talent of her offspring. That journey through the juniors is evident in the way his game continues to evolve.
As a relatively small teenager, Draper developed into someone who had to gather and fight in the back of the court.
Together with Emma Raducanu, the former US Open champion, Draper will fly the flag for Great Britain
At age 17, a massive growth spurt propelled him to a height of six feet, which has earned him weapons including a terrifying left-handed serve recorded at 138 mph.
“It’s exciting to me that when they think of tall players, they think of big serve and forehand, but they don’t move very well,” said Draper. “But one weapon I have is that I can see the game well and feel like I can move well, and that surprises people.
‘ I can rummage around the court a bit like when I was younger. Surely as I get stronger my serve will improve, my average speeds are faster this year, maybe I was 120 (mph) at Wimbledon, it’s more like 125 now, but with my serve it’s the accuracy and the percentage. I want to hit my spots better and get my average higher.’
Draper’s progress would have been even faster had he not suffered a number of injuries, the most recent of which held him back in the third round of the US Open.
To try and avoid more of it, he’s planning a “monster” training block in Florida later this month.
“That’s very important because there’s a limit to what you can do when you’re playing matches. I struggled a little over five sets at Wimbledon, but already in New York it felt easier.’
After Milan – where Danish teenager Holger Rune will be a favourite, now in the top 20 and finalist of the Paris Masters – he plans to take a few weeks off from home first: “You’re away so much. I just need to hang out with friends and be a normal 20-year-old for a while.”
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