Murray, Norrie & Evans Praise Draper: 'He's A Top Player'
Andy Murray, Cameron Norrie and Daniel Evans have been standouts for Great Britain for years. They each have thrilled fans with different game styles and personalities.
One thing they all share is a belief that the future of #NextGenATP Briton Jack Draper is bright.
Draper, who is fifth in the Pepperstone ATP Race To Turin, has proven a favourite to earn a spot at this year’s Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals. Murray, Norrie and Evans are not surprised.
“He’s always had lots of potential,” Murray told ATPTour.com. “A lot of ability.”
This time last year, Draper’s Pepperstone ATP Ranking was not high enough to enter US Open qualifying. Now the 20-year-old lefty is on the verge of the Top 50 and a dark horse at Flushing Meadows.
Part of the reason why Draper has exploded onto the scene this year is because he has consistently been on the court. Past injuries, including one to his ankle, and the Covid-19 pandemic had prevented him from taking advantage of good performances. But in 2021, he has earned 11 of his 13 tour-level victories and is primed for more.
“For 20, he’s actually quite a young 20-year-old as well,” Murray said. “[There were] six months of the pandemic when he didn’t get to compete… Although he’s 20, he’s not competed loads in the past few years, but he’s a top player.”
It has been clear that Draper is not shy of the big stages. While Draper has lifted four ATP Challenger Tour titles this season, he has also earned wins in four of his seven matches against Top 20 opponents. According to Evans, that does not solely have to do with his game.
“I think he’s obviously very grounded, he’s had good people around him for quite a long time. I know his current coach, [James Trotman], is a very ‘never too high, never too low’ sort of guy and that obviously really helps in big moments,” Evans said. “He obviously has a massive game and it’s no real surprise that once he’s put it all together, he’s been very effective on the Tour.”
Norrie remembers practising with Draper once when the #NextGenATP star was 17. At the time Norre said, “he was a little bit all over the place”. But over the past few years he has watched the rising star evolve.
“I knew he had a big game and he was a big kid already, and I immediately got on well with him and could see how competitive he was. For me, what he’s done is not a surprise at all and I’m just glad he’s really professional now, he’s taking care of everything and he’s winning some big matches and playing his best tennis in those big matches,” Norrie said. “[I] have a lot of respect for the guy, I really love his game and I’ve practised a lot with him in London. He knows my game pretty well and we’re also pretty good friends… It’s really great seeing him do well, especially in big tournaments.”
Photo Credit: Paul Harding/Getty Images for LTA
Draper’s biggest run yet came in Montreal, where he advanced to his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final. The lefty upset Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets, won the first set against Gael Monfils before the Frenchman retired due to injury, and challenged eventual champion Pablo Carreno Busta in a tight two-setter.
“I think Montreal showed it didn’t bother him which tournament it was, if it was a big one or a smaller one,” Evans said. “He really just took to it.”
Murray added: “[He] got the opportunity against Tsitsipas and played a good match. I thought the match with Carreno Busta as well the level of tennis was very high.
“I think he enjoys those moments and it’s always a little bit easier in some ways when you’re younger because it’s fresh, a new experience and not as much pressure on you. But just looking at his game, when he plays well [you see] how he matches up against the best players. I think there are some really good, positive signs for the future.”
Players are often associated with certain traits. For example, Rafael Nadal is known for his incomparable fighting spirit, Juan Martin del Potro his thunderous forehand and so on. According to Murray, Draper has the whole package.
“He doesn’t have huge weaknesses in his game. For a lot of guys his size that are lefties that I’ve played against in the past, maybe [they] don’t return that well. But he is a good returner for a big guy,” Murray said. “The two most important fundamental shots in the game he does well. He serves well, returns well.
“For a big guy, he moves pretty well also and then from the back of the court, his backhand is a very solid shot. [He] rarely makes unforced errors on that side and then on the forehand, he plays with a lot of spin. When he’s got time he can finish points. He’s got a big forehand when he’s got time to load up on it and he’s a smart player as well and a good competitor. He’s got lots of things going for him.”
Draper’s journey is just beginning, with the next step his first-round match against Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori. It is another opportunity for the Briton to continue his growth. As much as Draper has improved this season, Murray said there are always things to refine.
“At that stage, I don’t think there is just one thing [he has to focus on]. I think it’s the total package. You should be spending time working on the physical side, you should be spending time working on improving your game,” Murray said. “[You need to work on] the mental side and dealing with the distractions and maybe a little bit more pressure that will come in the next period as well and just learning how to deal with those things. It’s important.
“For me there isn’t one that’s more important than the other at that age. It’s just all about developing and progressing all parts of your game, becoming more professional, eating better, sleeping better, training better. All those things.”