The setting: Centre Court at Wimbledon. The opponent: Novak Djokovic.
It’s an incredible opportunity for any player. For Great Britain’s own Jack Draper, making his Grand Slam debut on home soil in front of friends and family, it couldn’t have been more surreal.
With the world watching, a 19-year-old Draper was thrust into the spotlight as he opened the 2021 Championships. It would have been understandable for the teenager to succumb to nerves, but this Brit is built differently. Just as he did two weeks prior, when he stunned Jannik Sinner and Alexander Bublik on the lawns of The Queen’s Club, an ATP 500 event, Draper embraced the moment.
The Sutton native used the pressure as fuel, sprinting out of the gates and snatching the opening set from the World No. 1 on the hallowed grounds of the All England Club. As he says, these moments are precisely why he decided to pursue a professional career.
“For some people, I guess it’s money. For some people, it’s maybe proving to themselves that they can do it. For me, I just love winning. To be honest, I love to put in the work and then gain the rewards from it. I enjoy how tough it is and I live for the big moments,” said Draper.
“Sometimes when you least expect it, you do great things. Sometimes where you’ve done all the right things, it can totally go against you. It’s just trying to keep that line of consistency so that you’re not on these massive ups and downs. The opportunity to perform and shine and do great things in tennis are there every week. Just trust the process, even when it gets really hard and you get down and you’re maybe not on a good run. My goal is to fulfill my potential of where I can go and just enjoy the process.”
Eight months later, that process has seen him take his talents to new heights on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2022. Draper would claim his maiden title on the indoor hard courts of Forli, Italy, and added two more crowns in February. At 20 years and two months, he became the youngest British player to lift three Challenger trophies. Moreover, an impressive 17-2 record has triggered a significant boost in the ATP Rankings, rising to a career-high No. 146. He is also third in the ATP Race To Milan, with an (early) eye on the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals.
Having missed most of the second half of his 2021 campaign due to a ruptured ligament in his ankle, his early-season success in 2022 is even more special.
Draper attributes his approach to his mother, Nicky, who introduced him to the game at the age of three, and the team at the National Tennis Centre in London, who helped cultivate these values. Nicky was a former top junior in Great Britain and provided a young Jack with valuable exposure, while working as a tennis coach in their hometown. He recalls going with her to the local club from an early age and playing against the wall. And that soon evolved to hitting with his brother, Ben, a future scholar-athlete at the University of California-Berkeley.
As he says, “I just picked up a racquet and we’d hit with each other. It wasn’t serious, but we enjoyed the sport and were developing skills without knowing it. I definitely developed a love for the game that way.”
Youngest Brits To Win Three Challenger Titles
|Player||Age||Third Title Won
||20 years, 2 months
|Kyle Edmund||20 years, 10 months||Buenos Aires 2015|
|Alex Bogdanovic||21 years, 6 months||Shrewsbury 2006|
|Cameron Norrie||22 years, 1 month||Stockton 2017|
As Draper’s love for tennis began to blossom, he did not commit to the sport until he was 16, when he reached the boys’ final at Wimbledon. A multi-sport athlete, which also included football, cricket and swimming, the Brit was unsure of how good he could be as a tennis professional and was reluctant to relinquish his life outside the court during his teenage years.
He says his family was instrumental in guiding him through the process, as he eventually turned pro in 2018. And from there, Draper credits his emotional and physical development to the team at the NTC, including coaches James Trotman and Ryan Jones and fellow British stars Cameron Norrie, Andy Murray and Daniel Evans.
“I definitely believe that in terms of my level of tennis, that I can beat pretty much anyone,” Draper added. “I’m lucky to practise at the National Tennis Centre with Murray, Norrie and Evans when they’re there. I know that when I go to Challengers, there’s going to be some great players I’m facing, so I’m lucky to have good practices like that at the NTC to prepare me. They are all very supportive of us younger players. It helps that there’s a good buzz in British tennis at the moment. Whenever there’s a chance hit with those guys, we always take advantage of it because they want to push us and they want to help us get to that level.
“Cam does all the right things. He’s very professional. There is never a bad training session with him. Even when it’s not going right, he’s not letting his head drop. He’s making sure that his training is good. He’s not getting disheartened. So I think it’s a good example that maybe if things aren’t going your way, just work at it and you’re going to do fine.
“And then the same with Andy as well in terms of the injuries he’s had, to keep on wanting to find a way, find a solution to be better and to keep himself out there. I think it’s quite important because obviously every athlete deals with injuries, especially in tennis. And it’s how you react to certain situations. Those are lessons I learned from those guys.”
Challenger First-Time Winner: 10 Questions For Jack Draper
Whether it be recovering from a ruptured ankle ligament or rallying from 0/5 down in the deciding tie-break of a Challenger final, Draper credits those experiences at the NTC with his maturation both on and off the court. It was in his most recent Challenger title match in Forli that he recovered from such a deficit, saving four championship points to battle past Alexander Ritschard and lift the trophy.
“I had some good wins against Sinner and Bublik on the grass last year and obviously playing Djokovic at Wimbledon. Since then, I’ve gone in the right direction, aside from the injury. You never expect to win three Challengers so quickly in the year, but it’s about putting all the pieces together – both mentally and physically with my body. It gets to the point where you go from the Futures to the Challengers and you see how good these guys are and every little percent makes a massive difference.
“I try to make them play their best game and make them beat me. That’s a big thing. Falling down 0/5 in the tie-break, I know he’s going for his first Challenger title and I know if I mentally reset, I will be able to go again for each point. If they are to beat me, they need to repeat this over and over. If they do it, then too good. But I think if I’m engaged on every point and I have an awareness of what’s going on down the other end of the court as well, it’s a big thing and that’s where I’ve improved a lot.”
Draper, a fan of Manchester United on the football pitch and Conor McGregor in the UFC octagon, is prioritising a well-rounded life off the court. An integral piece of that equation includes continuing his education via online studies. He recently got involved in ‘Open University’ in the U.K., where he is in the second of a six-year course, studying a different subject each term.
With his dream job being a detective, it’s no surprise that he explored the subject of criminology in his first year. Now, Draper says he is studying an introduction to business and finance. He attributes his interest in criminology to watching detective mystery TV shows with his brother as a child.
“If I’m just at home, I have a local, greasy English cafe I like to go to. Living such an abnormal life, I try to make it as normal as possible. I like being at home with my dog and just chilling out with friends. I have an Australian miniature labradoodle. It’s amazing to come home and see him. It’s important to not get too involved with making it all about the tennis.
“I quickly realised after a couple of years that tennis is something that is amazing, but it occupies a lot of my life. I think it’s important to keep the brain occupied and keep learning, of course, because one day my tennis career will come to an end and it would be nice to have learned quite a bit along the way as well. Taking classes is a tough challenge but I’d be pretty proud of myself if I come away with getting something out of it.”
Get To Know Jack
Tennis idol: When I was younger, I was lucky to see Murray in his prime. I always looked forward to seeing Andy play. I always thought he was invincible.
Memorable off-court experience: Last year, I went to the Euro (football) semi-finals with my brother at Wembley Stadium. Watching England make the final, there’s many middle-aged men that have never seen that and they’ve been waiting their whole lives. It brought the country together. It’s something that will stick with me for a while.
Biggest phobia: Swimming in the sea, just for the fear of sharks. Maybe watching ‘Jaws’ when I was younger did that to me. I just don’t like the sea because I don’t know what’s in it.
Favourite food from home: Chicken pie. And from a restaurant it would probably be something like Indian food.
Favourite music: Pretty much everything. I like a lot of the stuff that comes out of the U.K. The rap and grime music. But also any of that British pop era stuff, like Oasis and the Stone Roses. Those older bands from the 90s. Their music is pretty timeless.
Two things you can’t travel without: It would have to be a speaker. Sometimes you’re in your hotel room and just want to crank it up a bit and listen to some music. I’d also say a pair of jeans. There are so many athletes that wear a tracksuit all the time. When you’re away from the court, it’s important to have a little bit more about you than that. Casual clothes that you can go out with and just show that you’re not all about the tennis.