Opportunity knocks for Jack Draper at the Australian Open next week, where he will face top seed Rafael Nadal in a fascinating first round.
The 21 year-old from Surrey was pulled out of the hat against the Spanish legend barely an hour after he had dispatched world number 20 Karen Khachanov, thus making the semi-final of the ATP 250 event in Adelaide.
The battle of two southpaws was not the only high-profile draw involving British players next week with Andy Murray due to face 2021 Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini.
Jack Draper (above) has been drawn against Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open
Nadal is top seed and will be a huge test for the British rising star next week
Emma Raducanu, who appears to be recovering from last week’s ankle injury, will face world number 74 Tamara Korpatsch of Germany. If she was to get past her there is the likelihood of a first career meeting with Coco Gauff.
There will not have been many better times to play defending champion Nadal, whose surge in the first half of last season very much evaporated at the back end of the year.
Draper underlined again his potential this morning by avenging last week’s defeat against the powerful Russian by beating him 6-4 7-6 to set up a match against unseeded Korean Soonwoo Kwon in South Australia on Friday.
‘It will be amazing to play on a big court against him, he is a great champion,’ he said of Nadal, top seed in the absence of US Open champion Carlos Alcaraz.
Andy Murray faces Mateo Berrettini in his first round match at the Australian Open
‘There are a lot of emotions, thinking about playing him, but I have to still got to do well in this week’s tournament. Whatever happens it will be a special occasion for me, I’m still very young in my career, so it’s great to have these sort of experiences and exposure to playing Rafa on a big arena. I’ll just be trying to play well and do the best that I can.’
Since the US Open Nadal has lost six of his seven matches, including the two he has played this year, one of them against Britain’s Cam Norrie.
His serve looked to be below par in the recent United Cup team competition, but there is no player more masterful than the veteran Nadal, than peaking for the biggest events when he needs to.
A year ago Draper was playing – and winning – Challenger level tournaments as his ranking was just outside the top 250. After twelve months of eyecatching improvement he is now inside the world’s best 40.
‘He’s someone who fights very hard for every point,’ Draper said at a recent GQ Heroes event. ‘He’s a very humble guy. I think you can learn so many lessons from a great athlete like that.’
Draper has progressed well and beat Karen Khachanov in an ATP 250 event in Adelaide
Emma Raducanu will meet world No 74 Tamara Korpatsch of Germany in her first match
Speaking after his latest victory, which saw him overcome some nervous moments to take the tiebreak 7-3, Draper reflected: ‘I was really proud of the way I played especially after the way I performed last week.
‘I lost to him (Khachanov) and he was way too good, I felt a bit down after that. There were tight moments at the end of the second set and mentally I had to come through, I was pleased with the way I dealt with it.’
Five-times Australian finalist Murray is outside the seeded positions these days, and therefore vulnerable to facing one of the highest ranked players.
His form looked encouraging this morning when he defeated Australian Alex de Minaur 6-3 6-3 at the Kooyong Classic exhibition in the Melbourne suburbs.
He played Berrettini, currently ranked 14, in the US Open third round in September and lost in four highly competitive sets. Kyle Edmund faces another top Italian in Jannik Sinner while 12th seed Cam Norrie is up against wildcard Luoa Van Assche and number 25 plays Argentinian Facundo Bagnis.
Berrettini (above) defeated Murray in the US Open and the Brit will be out for revenge
Raducanu was back practising again on Wednesday and was given a reasonable opener against 27 year-old German Korpatsch, who she beat last year in Stuttgart. Theoretically that would lead to a second round match against Gauff, world number seven and the only player younger than her to be ranked higher.
Harriet Dart is the only other British player in the main singles draw, and was given a difficult but winnable first round against Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann.
Jodie Burrage on Wednesday went down to a disappointing 6-3 1-6 6-2 defeat in the final qualifying round against France’s lower ranked Selena Janicijevic.
An undistinguished qualifying campaign for Britain’s players came to an end when Lily Miyazaki lost 6-3 6-7 7-6 to American Coco Vandeweghe.
Cam Norrie made the semi-finals of the ASB Classic in Auckland when he defeated American Marcus Giron 6-1 6-7 6-2. He now plays Jenson Brooksby.
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