Jack Draper: The Inside Story

Jack Draper: The Inside Story

Jack Draper stalked around the Queen’s Club court like an apex predator. The muscle-bound 22-year-old hammered down serves and crushed forehands and bullied Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz into submission, scoring the win of his life to thrust himself into public consciousness.

Could this really be the same tiny kid who looked almost frail compared to his contemporaries as a junior? The young pro whose body was racked by injury, or the man who slumped in front of the press just one month ago in Paris and talked of feeling like he was ‘playing without a serve’?

Draper has always been an outstanding talent but his road to a first title in Stuttgart this month, that Alcaraz win and British No1 status has been winding and treacherous.

As a growth spurt twisted through his young body, injuries followed, and he has only recently committed to leaving behind the little boy who had to fight for every point and embracing the heavyweight style of play his powerful body demands.

In many ways his career has been defined by his earliest years as a player, so Mail Sport spoke to Justin Sherring, who coached Draper from the age of five to 15, to get the inside story on the next big thing in British tennis.

Jack Draper will head to Wimbledon on Tuesday as the newly crowned British men’s No1

The 22-year-old has enjoyed the most promising of run-ups to the home Grand Slam

The 22-year-old has enjoyed the most promising of run-ups to the home Grand Slam

But recent success comes after a long, winding journey from being one of the smallest in the juniors (pictured left)

But recent success comes after a long, winding journey from being one of the smallest in the juniors (pictured left)

‘Wherever we went he was one of the smallest guys,’ says Sherring. ‘We used to train with (British contemporary) Anton Matusevich — he was 6ft 1in and looked like (Rocky villain) Ivan Drago, and Jack was 5ft 4in. He had to keep up with the bigger guys, there were never any excuses.’

Lacking physical power, Draper had to find other ways to feed his insatiable appetite for winning.

‘When you’re small you focus more on skill development and tactics,’ says Sherring, who now coaches four-time men’s doubles Grand Slam champion Joe Salisbury.

‘So he was a very skilled player and an incredible competitor. He was the No1 14-year-old in Europe but it was never to do with a physical advantage.

‘At 10 years old he was hitting with all my best 16-year-olds but nobody wanted to play him because he was so locked in.

‘He was 15, in India playing a very good player, six inches taller than him. I could not believe how badly he wanted to win and how willing he was to do whatever it takes. You could see the monster that was developing.’

At the age of 17, the monster suddenly had a body to match. It was as if Draper had wolfed down the cake labelled ‘eat me’ which Alice finds in Wonderland; he shot up and filled out, climbing towards the 6ft 4in frame he now embodies.

As a junior, Draper came runner-up at the junior Wimbledon Championships in 2018

As a junior, Draper came runner-up at the junior Wimbledon Championships in 2018

He played his first senior match at the tournament against Novak Djokovic three years later

He played his first senior match at the tournament against Novak Djokovic three years later

Height is a huge advantage in tennis, but dramatic growth spurts can be problematic for young athletes. Ajax, the Dutch football club famed for youth development, are meticulous in tracking young players’ growth spurts and tailoring training to avoid injury.

As Draper’s body grew, the injuries kept coming, stunting his rise up the rankings. Sherring believes Draper may have been pushed — or pushed himself — too hard around this age.

‘I coach the next crop of boys and when they go through their major growth spurts you’ve got to be really careful not to overtrain,’ says Sherring. ‘Jack’s only used to one thing, which is driving himself to the limit. You’ve got to rein these guys in.

‘He was with (coach) Ryan Jones and Ryan is known for being an absolute beast, an absolute taskmaster. So it might just have been a little bit unfortunate in that Ryan’s drive, Jack’s drive, Jack’s body… but there aren’t many kids that get through that growing stage and puberty without niggles.

‘If he had come across someone very scientifically orientated who could have put the brakes on and said, “Let’s take it easy for a few months”… but I just don’t think that was the way the environment would have been.’

When Draper’s 2021 US Open campaign was ended by a groin strain, he brought in Croatian former Olympic sprinter Dejan Vojnovic as his new fitness trainer. But still his body kept breaking down.

After experiencing a hefty growth spurt, Draper found his career riddled with injuries (in 2022)

After experiencing a hefty growth spurt, Draper found his career riddled with injuries (in 2022)

The British No1 was forced to retire during a number of matches, including against Carlos Alcaraz at Indian Wells in 2023

The British No1 was forced to retire during a number of matches, including against Carlos Alcaraz at Indian Wells in 2023

Draper turned a page at the end of 2023 and retrained his body after reuniting with his former trainer Steve 'Speedo' Kotze

Draper turned a page at the end of 2023 and retrained his body after reuniting with his former trainer Steve ‘Speedo’ Kotze

‘I was injured all over my body,’ Draper said at Queen’s this month. ‘I had shoulder problems, hip problems. My body was just made of glass.’

At the end of 2023 Draper split with Vojnovic and reunited with his former strength and conditioning trainer Steve ‘Speedo’ Kotze, who had previously worked with Andy Murray.

Doubling down on his already incredible work ethic, together Draper and Kotze reforged that body of glass into a frame of iron.

‘Steve’s the best guy around,’ says Sherring. ‘I’ve been on the next court to them at the National Tennis Centre and the work they’re doing . . . Jack’s playing heavy points, working crazy hard. Then the point finishes and Speedo chucks a medicine ball at him and gives him some exercises and then straight on to a Wattbike, he’s got to blast out as hard as he can, he’s got 20 seconds’ rest and then some box jumps.

‘I looked over at him one day and said, “Look at you: earning the right to feel like a million dollars on court”. Later that evening he messaged me and said: “Earning the right. I like that”. It’s taken a little bit of trust as well because some of the guys he had working with him maybe weren’t doing things that were great for his body.’

The latest chapter in the Draper story began with the intervention of South African former world No 6 Wayne Ferreira. The 52-year-old had recently split from American Frances Tiafoe and reached out to Draper.

The player began working with Wayne Ferreira (left) in May and has experienced another turning point in his game

The player began working with Wayne Ferreira (left) in May and has experienced another turning point in his game

It is relatively unusual for a coach to approach a player, but Ferreira felt he could improve an attacking game which he has described as ‘weak’.

Draper himself felt he had never quite been able to move on from the scrappy, attritional style he was forced to play as the smallest kid on the block.

He admitted that, against top players, he had been made to feel ‘like I’m 5ft 6in’.

But since May, when Ferreira came on board, he and Draper’s primary coach James Trottman began the difficult process of reforming their player’s game.

He looked horribly out of form during the clay, stuck in a limbo between defence and attack, and struggling with a service action that had been tweaked under Ferreira’s guidance.

The nadir was a first-round defeat by qualifier Jesper de Jong at the French Open which left Draper devastated but determined to persevere: ‘Things have to change,’ he said. ‘And that’s going to take time.’

In fact, it took a little over two weeks. Draper looked a different player as he won the title on the grass of Stuttgart. After that ‘playing without a serve’ comment in Paris, in Germany he hit 31 aces against Tiafoe in the quarter-finals.

Draper enjoyed a blistering run at the start of the month in Stuttgart, where he took down grass-court specialist Matteo Berrettini in the final

Draper enjoyed a blistering run at the start of the month in Stuttgart, where he took down grass-court specialist Matteo Berrettini in the final 

After claiming his first title, Draper will start his journey at SW19 as the No28 seed next week

After claiming his first title, Draper will start his journey at SW19 as the No28 seed next week 

‘It’s quite similar to Andy Murray,’ says Sherring. ‘For years he was told he’s got to stop grinding, everybody was trying to coach him to be more aggressive.

‘I’m really impressed with Jack really going gung-ho and all in. It can be a relief as well — Jack goes: “Right I’m gonna go for it, what will be will be”. It’s a nice mentality.’

Draper could not be in a better place coming into Wimbledon. He plays Swedish qualifier Elias Ymer on Tuesday and then could face Cam Norrie, the man he usurped as British No1.

No4 seed Alexander Zverev lies in wait in the third round but after the Alcaraz win, Draper should fear absolutely no one on this surface.

‘I was in the players’ lounge at Queen’s,’ concludes Sherring, ‘and people said, “Can you believe he just beat Alcaraz?” I said, “Course I can. This guy can go all the way”.’

Comments

No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *