Jack Draper’s Australian Open is over after a valiant effort against defending champion Rafael Nadal. The first set saw both players power to hold of serves as Nadal started the match with two love holds despite concerns over his fitness and confidence. Draper remained unfazed though as he continued to set up effective patterns of play and hit powerful groundstrokes that broke through the defences of the Spaniard.
After being locked in a battle for power and control, it was Nadal who had the first break point of the match in the eighth game only to be denied by a ruthless defending champion. In the end, Nadal did get the break that was coming and converted his second break point as a failed Draper drop shot lead to a fiery forehand cross-court winner from Nadal.
A big moment in the match as Nadal roared in delight to his box but that joy didn’t last long as Draper continued to plug away on the Spaniard’s limited serve. The Brit’s flawless power from return saw him race into a double break lead at 3-0 as Nadal’s defences could not neutralise the rallies on a consistent basis.
Whether it was from the baseline or at the net, Draper was utterly dominant as he dismantled Nadal’s game as he threatened for the double break lead. Nadal held off two break points in the fifth game to survive the storm but couldn’t comeback into the match as a confident Draper levelled the match at one set all.
The third set proved to be the most gruelling of the match as both players were playing their best tennis and grinding from the baseline. Both players looked confident with Nadal starting to find his range in what was a crucial set in terms of momentum and the match with neither player trusting their bodies.
The Spaniard turned on the pressure in the fourth game with Draper initially remaining composed and calm as he saved one of the break points with a volley at the net. Eventually though Nadal won the war as he continued to extend the rallies and the game with brutal baseline shot-making. On his fourth break point Nadal seized the advantage and with it a 3-1 lead.
However the match was far from over as Draper continued to find winners from impossible angles and the Brit secured the break back in the seventh game. Despite this there were signs that this match was taking its toll on the Brit with him calling the physio to massage his legs and the war of attrition would eventually be won by the defending champion as he broke for the set to take a two sets to one lead.
It was now a matter of when not if Nadal would win as Draper could now barely move or serve as the cramping was getting worse. Despite this the Brit wouldn’t give up and did break back in the second game before Nadal would break Draper on two more occasions to seal his place in the second round.
Draper reveals lack of off-season
It was a valiant effort from Draper but in the end the same problems reoccurred as once again his body failed him. This is to be expected from a 21 year-old who has had very limited experience at being on the tour regularly.
Speaking in his post-match press conference Draper admitted to being ‘undercooked’ and spoke about how two viral infections played a part in his lack of preparation for the new season, “Going to this trip in Australia, I was very undercooked, to be honest,” Draper was quoted by tennis365 as saying.
“After last year, I was really excited about doing a good pre-season. I had two viral infections so had to be on antibiotics on two occasions. I lost five of those seven weeks. I’ve got to be proud of the way I competed in Adelaide (he reached the semi-finals of the ATP event there last week) and the effort I put in there. I think I surprised myself with where I’ve been at.
“Obviously this physical thing is going to take time. It’s going to take patience. But I’m fully aware of that and I’m willing to do everything I can to put myself in a great place moving forward.”
It’s a sign of Draper’s confidence and intelligence that the Brit is aware of his limitations as he looks to use this year to build his physicality and fitness as well as continuing his rise up the rankings.
The Brit also spoke about how he’s invested in a physical trainer this season and what it was like to play one of his idols on Rod Laver Arena, “The first set’s always tough. I’ve never been on court with Rafa before. The second set, I sort of calmed down and started playing really well. If I would have carried on that way, who knows?,” Draper was quoted by tennis365 saying.
“I just need to investigate why I’m getting (cramp), but also know that I’ve only just started really with my fitness trainer that I’ve invested in. Obviously playing a player like Rafa on Rod Laver, something that I’ll remember for a very long time. A real honour to play against him, someone I’ve idolised growing up.
“To go toe-to-toe with him on a big court like that is special. I think I can take away the fact that my tennis is getting closer and closer.”
Draper knows if he continues to play like he did for two and a half sets against Nadal, then it’s only a matter of time before he makes a deep Grand Slam run.
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