Former top ten player predicts Rafael Nadal will have ‘trouble’ with Jack Draper

Jack Draper

Rafael Nadal’s clash with rising star Jack Draper is a stand-out clash in the opening round of the Australian Open and there is an expectation that the defending champion could be pushed all the way by the British youngster.

Draper’s rapid rise up the ATP rankings will see him reach a career-high of 38 by the time he takes to the court against Nadal on Monday in Melbourne, with Barbara Schett telling Tennis365 that the 21-year-old could challenge the 22-time Grand Slam champion.

Speaking ahead of the Australian Open, which is live and exclusive on discovery+ and Eurosport, Schett told us that Nadal will be wary of the threat posed by his opening round rival.

“Nadal against Jack Draper wold be trouble for Rafa Nadal,” Schett told Tennis365.

“Jack’s raise in the ratings has been so fast and I actually listen to a podcast not long again and it said he started working with a mental health coach. He can put down his good tennis to that because he has got so strong.

“He played semis in Adelaide (this week) and he has wins against the big guys.

“Of course, Rafa Nadal is another calibre, but no-one knows how he is feeling. He had some losses at the United Cup and I’m sure Jack is a player who could trouble him.

“I don’t expect Jack to beat him, but there is a chance. We always know Rafa is more vulnerable in the first round.”

LTA coach James Trotman has been working with Draper during his rapid rise up the ATP rankings and he is setting expectations at a realistic level heading into 2023.

“We like to keep things very simple,” Trotman told the LTA.

“The overall target and goal for Jack Draper is to keep improving, developing and getting better as a tennis player and that will involve many things around his mentally, physicality, psychology, technical tactical side of the game.

“But our approach is very much if Jack becomes a better more rounded tennis player then his ranking will improve.

“Last year Jack made the semi-finals of some ATP 250 events, so it would be nice for him to make a final or win his first ATP Tour event this year, it would be something special and a great achievement for Jack.

“Unfortunately, in Jacks’s pre-season he did get sick twice, missing a chunk which was unfortunate, but he is fit and healthy and we are looking to take more steps forward.”

Draper was such a fan of Rafael Nadal growing up that he copied the Spaniard’s signature piratical look but that will not stop him fully believing he can cause a huge upset at the Australian Open on Monday.

Draper was on the massage table in Adelaide on Thursday when he learned he would be taking on the top seed and defending champion on his debut at Melbourne Park, which has been given prime scheduling on Rod Laver Arena.

The 21-year-old said of Nadal: “When I was younger I had the sleeveless top, the bandanas, all his latest grand-slam clothes. I watched him play (Andy) Murray quite a few times.

“There’s no denying he’s an iconic player. And what he’s done within the game is incredible. So to go out there and play him on Monday, I was thinking on the plane over, I’ve come a long way myself.

“But I’ve got to put it out of my mind and go out and try and do the best I can.”

Draper has only played in three grand-slam tournaments but this will be the second time he faces one of the all-time greats having taken on Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon in 2021.

But such has been the speed of Draper’s rise that this feels like a completely different occasion, with a combination of the young Londoner’s threat and the shaky form of Nadal meaning only a third first-round loss at a grand slam for the 36-year-old appears distinctly possible.

Draper has won two of his last three matches against top-10 opponents, beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in Canada last summer before a statement victory over Felix Auger-Aliassime at the US Open that demonstrated the huge potential of the big-hitting left-hander.

He exudes a quiet confidence, and said: “I want to go out there and fight hard for every ball and I honestly believe that my tennis is good enough to beat a lot of guys. I feel confident.

“I think it’s important to enjoy it. But sometimes when you play great players, go out and have a free hit and all this sort of stuff, I don’t want to do that. I want to go and compete hard and really play well and I want to go and win the match, of course.”

The Australian Open is live on Eurosport and discovery+ starting on Monday.