Jack Draper was such a fan of Rafael Nadal growing up that he copied the Spaniard’s signature piratical look but that will not stop him fully believing he can cause a huge upset at the Australian Open on Monday.
Draper was on the massage table in Adelaide on Thursday when he learned he would be taking on the top seed and defending champion on his debut at Melbourne Park, which has been given prime scheduling on Rod Laver Arena.
The 21-year-old said of Nadal: “When I was younger I had the sleeveless top, the bandanas, all his latest grand-slam clothes. I watched him play (Andy) Murray quite a few times.
“There’s no denying he’s an iconic player. And what he’s done within the game is incredible. So to go out there and play him on Monday, I was thinking on the plane over, I’ve come a long way myself.
“But I’ve got to put it out of my mind and go out and try and do the best I can.”
Draper has only played in three grand slam tournaments but this will be the second time he faces one of the all-time greats having taken on Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon in 2021.
But such has been the speed of Draper’s rise that this feels a completely different occasion, with a combination of the young Londoner’s threat and the shaky form of Nadal meaning only a third first-round loss at a grand slam for the 36-year-old appears distinctly possible.
Draper has won two of his last three matches against top-10 opponents, beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in Canada last summer before a statement victory over Felix Auger-Aliassime at the US Open that demonstrated the huge potential of the big-hitting left-hander.
He exudes a quiet confidence, and said: “I want to go out there and fight hard for every ball and I honestly believe that my tennis is good enough to beat a lot of guys. I feel confident.
“I think it’s important to enjoy it. But sometimes when you play great players, go out and have a free hit and all this sort of stuff, I don’t want to do that. I want to go and compete hard and really play well and I want to go and win the match, of course.”
Draper won the first set against Djokovic at Wimbledon before the Serbian eased away to the finishing line, exposing the young British player’s lack of physical development.
Draper, who only arrived in Melbourne on Saturday after reaching the semi-finals of the Adelaide International, has improved a huge amount since then but recently hired a new physical trainer as he continues to work on that side of his game.
I know having trained and practised with him how good he is
Andy Murray on Jack Draper
“Maybe then I was ranked about 260 in the world,” he said of the Djokovic clash.
“I was kind of thrown into that one-off match and I’d barely played at all that year.
“This time it feels a little bit different because I’ve been playing on the tour for six months, I’ve been building my confidence. I feel a lot more comfortable in my own body. I feel more comfortable with the tennis I play. And in general I feel a lot more confident.
“There’s no denying that it will be a tough challenge but I feel a lot more ready for it this time. The Djokovic experience will definitely help me in order to deal with some of the emotions going on.”
Draper’s rise has been noted not just in British tennis, and his compatriots all speak highly of him.
Andy Murray, who edged out Draper in a high-quality clash at the Battle of the Brits event in Aberdeen last month, said: “I think he’ll deal with the situation well.
“They’re playing in the day so the courts will be quick. Jack is a big server, he’s a big guy, and plays with a lot of topspin as well. Great opportunity for him to go out there and see exactly where he’s at.
“I know he’s been working a lot on the physical side of things and that’s one of the best tests you can get is playing against Rafa in a slam. I know having trained and practised with him how good he is.”