Draper 'taunt' for Murray as Brits prepare to return

‘You can’t lose to a guy with a metal hip!’ Jack Draper ‘taunt’ for Andy Murray as Brits prepare to return after coronavirus suspension

  • The ‘Battle of the Brits’ have been accompanied by plenty of trash talk
  • Draper, 18, carries the weight of being Murray’s potential long-term successor  
  • Murray, 33, kicks off his opening group match against Liam Broady on Tuesday 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Jack Draper was playing against Andy Murray this week, and he reports that the latter was not pleased at losing their full-on practice set.

‘I beat him in 7-6, neither of us was in great form he took it badly,’ says the 18 year-old who carries the weight of being Murray’s potential long-term successor.

These warm-ups for the coming ‘Battle of the Brits’, which begins on Tuesday, have all been accompanied by plenty of trash talk among the eight leading GB men participating in the return of the pro game to these shores.

Jack Draper, 18, carries the weight of being Andy Murray’s potential long-term successor

‘It’s a disgrace if you lose to a guy with a metal hip,’ adds Draper, slightly disarmingly. He delivers the line in a lighthearted manner, but you slightly wonder if many a true word is spoken in jest.

There is no shortage of youthful bravado about him, and the fact is that whenever a group of players from the same country come up against each other there is an edge amid the camaraderie.

This will especially be the case as everyone has the return of the international tours to shoot for, now that the US Open and lead-in events have been confirmed.

Draper finds himself cast in the role of upstart for next week: ‘We have had this group chat for six weeks. I’m getting so much abuse on it,’ he says. ‘ I tried radio silence for a week but I was still getting blasted. I ended up having a couple of beers on a Saturday night and I went in on all of them, which was satisfying. Andy likes to give it out but he can take it.

The ‘Battle of the Brits’ have been accompanied by plenty of trash talk among the eight players

‘Twenty years ago if you were giving someone a lot of gip or banter it was a sign that they respect you, but these days it might be taken as hurting your feelings. I just enjoy it. Next week is going to be really good, pride is on the line.’

Much attention will be on Murray, playing his first match since mid-November when he kicks off his opening group match on Tuesday, against Liam Broady.’I think he is just happy to be playing again,’ says Draper. ‘He has got a metal hip but he is still moving pretty well.’

While it never pays to read too much into the result of one practice set, the teenager’s 7-6 win is a reminder of how the coming week should be viewed.

One is that expectations about what Murray can achieve on this return to action should be tempered. Another is that Draper, a 6′ 3′ lefthander from Surrey, is already quite a handful.

He is the second youngest player in the world’s top 300, and his ranking would doubtless be higher were it not for the current hiatus and him also having missed chunks of last season due to injury.

His increasingly all-court game does not much resemble that of Murray, but to watch them is to recognise some shared characteristics.

Murray, 33, kicks off his opening group match against Liam Broady on Tuesday

BATTLE OF THE BRITS

Britain’s top eight men and six of the leading doubles pairs will play in the Schroders Battle of the Brits indoor tournament behind closed doors at the National Tennis Centre at Roehampton from Tuesday until Sunday. 

All matches will be live on Amazon Prime Video.

SINGLES

Tim Henman group 

James Ward (world ranking 273), Liam Broady (211), Andy Murray (129), Kyle Edmund (44) 

Greg Rusedski group 

Jack Draper (285), Jay Clarke (167), Cam Norrie (77), Dan Evans (28)

There is a similar desperation to win, and a naturally high tennis IQ when it comes to navigating their way through points. Both were brought up by parents with tennis expertise.

Draper’s mother, Nicky, is a coach and continues to be a top national senior player in her age group. More well-known is that his father, Roger, was Chief Executive of the Lawn Tennis Association, who has gone on to work in rugby league and, more recently, in football for the Saudi Arabian authorities.

Since their divorce he has had little involvement in his son’s tennis, which is now mainly in the hands of British coach Ryan Jones, who played a major part in the early development of Kyle Edmund and Croatia’s Borna Coric.

It would, of course, be ironic if Draper Sr. is shown to have made such a direct contribution to the fortunes of the British game through the eventual feats of his son.

Another irony as next week’s event looms is that the Coronavirus has done what neither Murray nor Pere Draper could do: lead to a major surge in tennis participation as the numbers playing have substantially risen during the past month of semi-lockdown.

When he plays his opening match against Derby’s Jay Clarke it will represent a resumption following what will be the longest rain delay of his career, which goes back to March 11.

‘I was in South Africa playing a tournament when it all kicked off,’ says Draper. ‘I was 5-4 in the third set of my second round match when we came off for rain, and then got an email from ATP saying that after today we are cancelling everything. Then the rain didn’t stop so that was it, and we came home the next day.’

Having ten out of his previous eleven matches, the early season momentum was abruptly stopped.

‘I played a lot of tennis at the start of the year and was ready for a break, but after two or three weeks at home the novelty wore off and I started getting bored. I just tried to stay fit and did no tennis for eight weeks, but the for the last month I’ve been able to work on things. Ryan and I have done a lot of work on my transition game going forward and volleying, I can really feel the improvement.’

Next week’s event will be held behind closed doors at Roehampton, where he first remembers going as a five year-old to visit his father’s place of work.

Organised by Jamie Murray, there will be no such thing as ballkids under strict anti-Covid protocols, and the line decisions will be made by Hawk-eye. The country’s healthy hand of top doubles players will also be in action.

Unlike some of the many exhibition events that have been springing up around the world, this one promises to be extremely competitive. And unlike most others, there is a chance that the tournament’s unique and interesting nature might give it a chance of being repeated in future, rather than being consigned as a footnote to sport’s Coronavirus history.




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