Jack Draper Completes A Week To Remember In Stuttgart

Lou Reed, founder of The Velvet Underground and probably the most influential lyricist in the history of rock music, once famously taunted a music journalist by declaring: “My week beats your year”.  That may not be true of Jack Draper every week, but it is probably true of his last week in Stuttgart, during which he won his first ATP title, became Britain’s No.1-ranked male player for the first time and, most importantly, showed what he is really capable of on grass.

Draper Beat An Impressive Field in Stuttgart

The grass season in tennis is so condensed that the three weeks between the end of the French Open and the start of Wimbledon can seem like the busiest and most intense period of the sport’s calendar. Numerous tournaments at both the tour and Challenger levels are held in England and continental Europe as players desperately try to adjust to the fastest and most unpredictable of the three major surfaces.

For British players, it is a particularly important part of the year. First, they get to play consistently on a surface that they are generally far more familiar with than players of other nations (with the possible exception of Australians). Secondly, they are able to gain entry, even in the form of wild cards, to more tournaments than usual, especially if those tournaments are staged in Britain. Finally, it all enables them to further their dream of doing well at (or even winning Wimbledon), which, notwithstanding the merits of the French Open and the other Majors, remains the most famous and celebrated tennis tournament of them all.

Jack Draper does not need a wild card to enter tournaments, and he was playing in southern Germany, not Britain, but he still made the most of his week at the Boss Open. After finally getting over all the injury problems that have blighted his nascent career and recently adopting a more aggressive approach, especially on grass, he won his first ATP event (after winning numerous Challenger events) by beating an impressive field.

In the first two rounds in Stuttgart, Draper defeated Austria’s Sebastian Ofner and the USA’s Marcus Giron relatively comfortably, winning two successive tie-breaks against Ofner and prevailing against Giron 6-3 in the third set. However, it was in his final three matches of the tournament, from the quarterfinal onwards, that Draper really demonstrated how he is finally fully fit and making the most of his superb serve and gigantic forehand.

In his quarterfinal match, Draper lost a tight first set against Frances Tiafoe, the defending champion, but recovered brilliantly to win the match in a dominant final set tie-break, 7-1, which was completely at odds with the precariously tight nature of the play that had preceded it. Then, in the semifinal against Brandon Nakashima, Draper was simply imperious, winning relatively effortlessly 6-3, 6-3. However, it was in the final against Italy’s Matteo Berrettini that he produced probably the best performance of his young career so far.

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Draper Wins Battle of the Megaservers Against Berrettini

It is a quirk of the terminology of tennis that a fast server is invariably referred to as a “big” server. Well, on that basis, both Draper and Berrettini, whose first shots are among the very best on the ATP Tour, are surely megaservers. In further similarity, both men have struggled terribly with injuries in recent years; Berrettini after reaching the Wimbledon Men’s Singles final in 2021, which he lost in four sets to Novak Djokovic.

Like Draper, Berrettini finally looks as if he is returning to maximum fitness and with it maximum form, especially on serve, where he is so powerful that it is sometimes joked that he should be called “Bullettini” (on the basis that he serves bullets and not berets). He opened the Stuttgart final with an ace and was scarcely less impressive throughout the rest of the first set, which he won 6-3 after breaking Draper early on.

The second set was far tighter as both men produced a succession of aces and other unreturnable serves, such that they inevitably ended up in a tie-break. And it was in that tie-break that Draper demonstrated all his new-found aggression in one single shot when he stepped into a Berrettini second serve to fire a magnificent cross-court forehand winner, which eventually led to his winning the tie-break 7-5.

The “serveathon” continued well into the third set until Draper finally broke Berrettini for the first time in the match and then brilliantly and coolly served out for the title. Indeed, he served yet another ace of his own to end a truly titanic encounter between two of the best servers in the men’s game, whose serves are particularly powerful on grass.

How Well Can Draper Do At Wimbledon?

British tennis fans no longer yearn quite so much for a male Wimbledon champion after Andy Murray’s remarkable efforts in winning the tournament twice in the last decade or so. Nevertheless, there is always particular pressure on both British No.1s, male and female, going into The Championships (as Wimbledon is so simply but memorably called).

In outlasting a rejuvenated Berrettini, who had twice before won the tournament in Stuttgart, Draper suggested that he is capable of competing with and even beating the best men on grass. Berrettini may not yet be back to his absolute best, but he is still among the finest grass-court players of his generation and the fact that Draper could beat him, and beat him at his own game by outserving and ultimately out-forehanding him, should give the young Briton enormous self-confidence.

The fact is that with the grass court season being so very short there are few, if any, grass-court specialists left in the game. Carlos Alcaraz triumphantly proved that he can play on the green stuff by winning Wimbledon last year, but outside Jannik Sinner, who reached the last four at Wimbledon in 2023, there are very few other men who look capable of winning the tournament. And of course that will be especially true if Novak Djokovic is unable to play at Wimbledon after his recent injury in Paris.

Having just won his first ever tournament on the ATP, it would be a quantum leap of imagination to suggest that Draper can win Wimbledon this year. However, he can certainly go deep in the tournament and his game is so perfectly suited to grass (especially given that he is left-handed, so that his serve naturally arcs away rapidly from right-handers on grass) that he can be a possible contender for many years to come.

The challenge for Draper now is to build on his brilliant week in Germany, initially by doing well at Queen’s, the traditional main warm-up tournament for the men before Wimbledon, and then ideally at The Championships themselves. If he can do that, he can finally begin to fulfil all the promise that he first showed at Wimbledon in 2021, when he took the first set off defending champion Novak Djokovic in the first round, which was the only set that Djokovic lost before the final against Berrettini.

To use the old sporting cliché, Draper needs to compete at the top level week in and week out. If he can do that, every week may not be quite as good as his unforgettable week in Stuttgart, but it will still be part of his progress towards the top of the sport.

Main Photo Credit: Mike Frey – USA TODAY Sports


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