Ten years after an 11-year-old Jack Draper watched Andy Murray win the 2013 Wimbledon title from the Centre Court stands, the fast-rising British star will meet his idol-turned-friend for the first time on the ATP Tour Monday at the BNP Paribas Open.
Now 21, Draper has praised the three-time Grand Slam champion from the first time the media’s cameras and microphones were trained on him — a routine he is becoming accustomed to as he soars up the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, breaking into the Top 40 for the first time earlier this year after reaching the Adelaide semi-finals.
Murray has returned the favour, most recently on Saturday: “I think he’s going to be a top, top player for a long time,” predicted the Scot, who has proven to have a keen eye for spotting world-class talent. Ahead of the 2022 US Open, where Draper reached the third round for his best Grand Slam result, Murray discussed the 6-foot-4 lefty’s well-rounded game, giving particular credit to his return and movement at his size.
Speaking with ATPTour.com and members of the British press following his 6-4, 6-2 win against countryman Daniel Evans on Saturday in Indian Wells, Draper explained his history with Murray and how their relationship has evolved.
“I’ve sort of had two stages with Andy,” he explained. “[The first was] when I was younger, watching him win Wimbledon for the first time on Centre Court. It was inspiring. I wanted to be like him, someone that I was looking up to all the time… a bit starstruck when I saw him a few times at first.
“And then during lockdown I became a better player and I was able to practise with him more. From there, we’ve practised together loads. I’d like to say he’s a good friend and, again, still someone that I look up to and someone that I receive advice from all the time. I think he just tells me to enjoy the journey a little bit. I think that’s what he’s doing now, he’s enjoying his time on court a little more than he did. He’s an amazing champion and a very good human being as well.”
Draper may have had the perfect preparation for his third-round matchup with Murray in his win against Evans, during which he felt nerves and numb legs at times due to the pair’s close relationship. The Briton holds a 2-2 tour-level record against British opponents, including a win against Ryan Peniston and two defeats to Cameron Norrie.
“He’s obviously someone that I have a lot of banter with and he’s a friend,” Draper said of Evans. “It’s never nice competing against someone that you spend a lot of time with. But I guess that’s part of tennis. You’ve got to be able to play your compatriots and I thought I did a good job and I generally enjoyed the battle as well.”
Draper spent time with Evans and Norrie last month when he was named to the Great Britain Davis Cup team for the first time, though he did not compete in his nation’s 3-1 win against Colombia. After beating Evans in Indian Wells, Draper is looking forward to seeing another friendly face across the net when he plays Murray — who famously led Great Britain to its 10th Davis Cup title in 2015, winning all 11 rubbers he played.
“In all honestly I’d love to play Andy,” Draper said, before the 35-year-old closed out a 6-4, 6-3 win against Radu Albot. “I think playing him on one of the biggest stages in tennis, it’s something that I’ll be looking forward to, especially after today.
“Let’s make it another British affair. I think he’d be incredibly tough to beat, as usual, but it’s something that I’m looking forward to if I get to play him.”
While Draper is making his Indian Wells debut — “It’s a tournament I’ve been watching since I was really young. It’s fulfilled all my expectations of how good it would be,” he said — Murray is competing in the desert for the 15th time, his best result a final run in 2009 (l. to Nadal). Before the event, 46-time-time tour-level champ Murray singled out the BNP Paribas Open trophy as the one he most covets among those he has yet to win. On the opposite end of his career, Draper is seeking his first ATP Tour title this week.
Ahead of one of the biggest matches of his young tennis life, Draper can take some comfort from his many hitting sessions with Murray, as well as the pair’s matchup at the Battle of the Brits last December, an exhibition tournament played in Aberdeen. Murray won that match by the slimmest of margins in a Match Tie-break, after which the pair shared a warm embrace.
“I kind of felt like it was good to play Andy in a couple of sets,” Draper reflected. “But for one thing, it was an exhibition, that match. And also at the same time, we’d just come off the back off preseason, so we were both pretty tired from putting a lot of work in.
“But I expect the match on Monday to be an extremely tricky one. He’s come through a lot of matches recently, he’s playing with confidence and I think his body’s in a really good place as well at the moment.”
Murray has won all seven deciding sets he’s played this season, saving a mountain of match points along the way. He notched his first straight-sets win of the year against Albot.
Adding just a bit of extra spice to Monday’s marquee matchup: The winner will end the day ahead of the other in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, just outside the Top 40.
Did You Know?
Late last year, Draper hit with YouTube star and aspiring pro Felix Mischker, who is chronicling his journey to his first Pepperstone ATP Rankings point on his channel. Mischker documented their session in a YouTube video that has 159,000 views and counting.
“I found out I was hitting with him and then he asked if he could film the session. It was really good to get to know him a little bit more,” Draper said of the 19-year-old Briton.
“He’s got obviously the channel on YouTube which I think is really good. That shows tennis in a bit of a different way. A lot of times you see tennis from the highest echelons. But at the same time, people sometimes don’t really appreciate the journey of an aspiring pro and what that’s like. It’s really difficult, financially, working day in day out, playing the Futures.
“It’s not all strawberries and cream; it’s really difficult out there. I think it shows it a little bit from that perspective and I think he does a really good job of shining a light on that aspect and I think he’s a really popular kid on there. It was good to play with him and he’s a really nice guy.”