By Sanjay Suri
The year was 2021. The location: SW19. Teenage Brit Jack Draper was playing his first ever Grand Slam match, and just his fifth senior match, on Centre Court in front of home fans who had barely heard of him. His opponent meanwhile was a bit more well-known: arguably the greatest ever men’s tennis player, and World Number One Novak Djokovic. The trickiest possible start, but with chaos comes opportunity.
All eyes were on Draper, and he shocked the tennis world when he deservedly took the first set 6-4, saving seven break points, and crucially taking his opportunity to break in the third game. Unfortunately, Draper would lose the match 3-1, but he had taken his chance with both hands.
He had caught the eye of many and talk of him becoming the “next Andy Murray” was inevitable. One year later, he has broken into the Top 50 of the ATP rankings and is building a reputation of toppling big names.
This year he has been a full-time part of the ATP tour and continues to take big victories. Notable wins include victory over former Grand Slam winner Dominic Thiem, a straight-sets win versus top 10 regular Stefanos Tsitsipas and a comfortable triumph over World Number Eight Félix Auger-Aliassime at the US Open.
It is hard to believe that Draper is only 20, as when he plays there is such composure and maturity already in his game. The left-hander rarely loses his cool under pressure and already possesses an array of shots so that he can adapt against different opponents.
His ascent up the world rankings has been much quieter compared to compatriot Emma Raducanu, who shot up into the top 15 following her shock US Open victory in 2021.
However, this could be a blessing in disguise. When Raducanu won, she gained so much global fame so quickly that she was put under so much pressure by sponsors, fans, and coaches alike. Since then, Raducanu has struggled to find form, fitness, and a consistent coach.
Draper, meanwhile, has largely avoided public hype, partly thanks to the success of teenage ace Carlos Alcaraz. This has allowed him to play his own game and focus on his own goals. He is not playing like someone who is expected to go win the next Grand Slam, but someone who is working on his game so that, should he achieve success on the big stage, he will be able to repeat it consistently.
Draper has the backing too. His father was the chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association, whilst his mother is a former junior tennis champion herself. He has grown up surrounded by positive role models, and lives and breathes tennis.
So why Draper? Why not another Brit? In the women’s game, the most likely candidate by far is still Raducanu, despite her recent struggles. Her US Open win was no fluke, and hopefully, she will get up to that level again, but she has so much to sort out. Her injury and coaching problems are still at the forefront of her mind, and it could take her a few years to get a good balance.
What about a male champion then? British Number One Cameron Norrie currently sits 13th in the world rankings, reaching the Wimbledon Semi-Finals this year. However, he has struggled to impress at Grand Slams and, whilst he is evidently an excellent tennis player, he may well have hit his peak, and cannot get to the same level as some of the top players right now.
Could Andy Murray win a fourth Grand Slam then? Whilst this would be unbelievably popular here in the UK, it appears to be more of a fairy tale. He is not at the level that he was before his injury problems and, whilst he can still pull out a match-winning performance against a top opponent, he surely lacks the stamina and consistency to win a Grand Slam.
Roger Federer’s recent retirement has marked the beginning of the end for tennis’s ‘Big Three’. Their retirements will leave a hole that needs to be filled. Alcaraz, Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev look the most likely to do so but maybe, just maybe, Jack Draper could join them and back up Raducanu and Murray’s recent success.
Draper has age on his side and has already shown that he is ready to go toe-to-toe with tennis’s greatest.
Image: Carine06 via Wikimedia Commons