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US Open 2023: Jack Draper’s ‘100 per cent’ statement is admirable

FLUSHING MEADOWS — Carlos Alcaraz and Jack Draper gave their press conferences at the same time on Monday night, the former reflecting on his straight-sets win to continue his title defence, the latter unpicking a defeat that ended British hopes at the US Open.

No surprise then who was given the main interview room, and so tucked away in “Room 2” while Alcaraz was given precedence was Draper and a handful of mainly British journalists.

You could barely swing a racket in there, and would probably have hit the ceiling had one been inclined to mimic a serve, while fewer than 15 chairs were laid out, prompting some to sit on the floor or stand at back as if it were a school assembly.

And there, in conditions only slightly less muggy than the court Draper had just come from, the 21-year-old displayed admirable positivity, delivering assured responses to every question thrown his way.

He’ll play the Davis Cup next week if Great Britain captain Leon Smith wants him to, he said. He was pretty drained physically and mentally after playing Andrey Rublev in what felt like a sauna, he said. He was chuffed to be going home injury free after playing four good matches, he said.

But among everything he said, he saved the best for last. A final statement of intent that ended on a confident note: that he can one-day go the distance at slams.

“I suppose the more times you do it, the more you start to believe it,” he said. “Belief is such an important thing, but it’s tough to believe it unless you’ve done it.

“With the amount of injuries I’ve had and the amount of times I’ve not been able to compete, I’ve had difficult times so far in my career, and it has been tough to honestly believe I can go all the way in a Grand Slam right now.

“But if I stay fit and if I go to Australia and I’m in a much better shape, then there’s no reason why I can’t be one of the top players in the world. I do believe that. It’s not really my tennis that is holding me back, it’s my physicality and being able to stay on court consistently.

“Once I do that, I’ll prove to myself I’ll be able to be one of the best players in the world, because my tennis is right there. I’ve barely played the last couple of months and I’ve come here, made the fourth round and pushed a top-10 player.

“If I can just get things right, keep being able to train and compete, I think I can go all the way in this sport, 100 per cent.”

Steely albeit not, understandably, smiley, and upon departing the press conference, the contrast was noticeable as a typically beaming Alcaraz was broadcast across the screens in the media centre, providing answers in English and then Spanish to reporters in plusher seats.

Jack Draper celebrates his win over Michael Mmoh (Photo: Getty)
Jack Draper celebrates his win over Michael Mmoh (Photo: Getty)

Draper had been in that main room following previous rounds, for what it’s worth, but more crucially his unwavering belief tells you he’ll be back there in the years to come, perhaps after playing Alcaraz himself in the latter rounds on tennis’ biggest stage, Arthur Ashe.

That is, though, providing the body plays ball. Draper’s career has been checked by a series of injuries, which forced him to retire from the French Open, withdraw before Wimbledon, and then pull out midway through his Winston-Salem second-round match in August – and saw him drop from No 38 to 123.

The shoulder tear had almost led to tears among his team, he admitted last week, and so no one was more surprised by his run to a first-ever grand slam fourth round than Draper himself.

“The one thing for me now is to look after my body and make sure that I can end the year strong and just keep going,” added Draper, whose goal is to make next year’s main draw of the Australian Open without needing to qualify.

He is all but there already, currently just outside the top 100 in the live rankings, and given his undoubted quality he should only rise further in autumn, when Draper plans to add a number of ATP 250s to his schedule.

And while he may have struggled physically in the final set against Rublev, Draper can draw positives from this tournament of firsts. On top of a best-ever run, he enjoyed his first win in four sets against Michael Mmoh on Saturday, and truly, there ain’t no practice like match practice.

Knowing the body can handle a week of grand slam tennis is an experience only picked up by playing a week of grand slam tennis, and so the British No 5 is right to view this slam as a platform to rebuild on – from virtually straight away.

If he believes, British fans should believe too. The talent is there, the confidence as well, and so a spell without injuries – here’s hoping – would be just the ticket, one that leads him to new heights and makes Room 2 a thing of the past.

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