Jack Draper: ‘I contemplated what my life would be if I didn’t have tennis’

Jack Draper: ‘I contemplated what my life would be if I didn’t have tennis’

Over the past couple of years, at the beginning of each new tennis season, the ATP Tour charges some of its top players with predicting the year ahead. It is a bit of fun, a clever way to generate conversation and engagement, but it can also be telling. This year, on the subject of who will win their first title, Andrey Rublev was adamant: “I go with [Jack] Draper again, till he will make it. I was going with him last year, so I go with him again,” he asserted.

As he chats casually from a quiet corner of the Foro Italico before his appearance at the Italian Open this week, Draper smiles at the mention of his biggest fan: “He seems to believe in me a lot,” he says. “I’ve played him a few times. We’ve had some tight battles. Like people say, he’s incredibly nice and what a player, man.”

In this case, though, Rublev’s faith in Draper has less to do with his pleasant personality and more a reflection of the consensus on the tour: that the 22-year-old has everything he needs within his game to be a top player. Not only does he possess a wicked lefty serve and the ability to dominate opponents off the ground, but his weapons are complemented by a well-rounded skillset with consistent returning, solid movement and a growing comfort in the forecourt. The question remains whether he can take the next step in his career and rise to become a top player.

This week in Rome, Draper has made a significant decision in service of that goal. Alongside his coach, James Trotman, Draper is trialling a potential second coach, Wayne Ferreira, the former top 10 player and a well-regarded coach who enjoyed an extremely successful stint with Frances Tiafoe.

“It seems like he really believes in my tennis and believes that I’m really only at 50%-60% of my capacity as a player and there’s so many improvements to be made,” says Draper. “Which is what me and my coach know anyway, but it’s sometimes nice to have a different opinion and someone who really knows tennis to come in and dissect and look at things in a different manner.”

As inexperienced as Draper still is at the highest level of the sport, his career already has significant mileage. A son of Roger Draper, the former LTA chief executive, he had a fruitful junior career that peaked with him narrowly losing in the final of junior Wimbledon in 2018. Just as he was trying to transition to the professional circuit, a defining moment of his young career came during lockdown in 2020 at 18 years old. During the time off, Draper became slightly overawed by the task before him and contemplated stepping away from the sport.

“When you’re younger, you think tennis is [only] amazing things: Wimbledon, all these sorts of things,” he explains. “Then you get to come out of the juniors and you go and experience the pro tour and it’s not like that at all. You’ve got to grind in these futures. No one’s watching. No one cares about you. You’ve got to beat very, very good players from the off. No points. It just seems like you’re at the bottom of the mountain and having that mindset where you’re kind of seeing Mount Everest. It all seems a bit overwhelming and seems a bit too much. And I suppose at that stage, I was like: ‘I’m not sure if I have the ability to really cope with this.’ But I suppose everyone has those stages. They just have to keep going.”

Nearly every time Draper has been healthy enough to demonstrate his talent, it has been undeniable. At 19, he took a set off Novak Djokovic in the first round of Wimbledon in 2021. Then he tore through the challenger circuit in 2022, winning four events in the first four months of the year2022 and reached the top 100. By the start of 2023 Draper had broken into the top 40.

Jack Draper and Novak Djokovic shake hands after a match at Wimbledon.View image in fullscreen

But his body has so often refused to cooperate. Countless injuries – shoulder, back, hip, ankle – have sidelined him for significant periods in his young career. Just weeks after that milestone ranking last January, Draper again found himself contemplating his future in the sport. He thought about what it would be like to step away from the tour and go to university.

“I had this chronic hip thing and I thought of stopping again. ‘Am I going to be able to really do this?’ I really contemplated what my life would be if I didn’t have tennis, honestly. Since that moment, I’ve really realised what I want again and realised that this is something that I’m capable of achieving.”

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Only in the past six months has Draper truly begun to believe that being a top player is a clear and attainable goal, a consequence of the work that has gone into ensuring that his body is robust enough to withstand the demands of professional tennis. The first four months of this season are the first time he has actually been ‘on’ the tour, travelling and competing most weeks, rather than dipping in and out.

“I’ve worked really hard to get my body in a good place,” he says. “I think even though the results have been decent, the big result is my body, how I’m able to keep playing every week and not break down. Touch wood. I think that’s the most important thing and I keep giving myself a chance, I’m only going to grow more and more in confidence.”

It would have been reasonable to assume that, once able to play more regularly, he would fly up the rankings. But tennis is much more complicated than that. Unseeded at the big events and at risk of facing top 20 players early, he has beaten most lower-ranked opponents while suffering many tight three-set losses to quality players. It has been impressive to see him maintain perspective and a positive outlook despite numerous frustrating defeats. For Draper, it is essential to keep his head down and an eye on the bigger picture with the understanding that if he continues to work hard, he will eventually reach the level he knows he is capable of.

“You might not see the results straight away but if you’re kind of improving every day, even on the tour, then you’re going to get better and you’re going produce some big results,” he says. “And people will say it’s an overnight success, I’m sure, whenever I do have a big result. But it really isn’t. I’ve been working for so many years and I’m going to continue doing that.”