Jack Draper steps up as Andy Murray’s heir apparent with superb win over Carlos Alcaraz

Jack Draper - Jack Draper steps up as Andy Murray's apparent heir with superb Carlos Alcaraz win
Jack Draper had every reason to jump for joy after his straight-sets win over Carlos Alcaraz - Getty Images/Luke Walker

There were baton-passing vibes at Queen’s on Thursday as 22-year-old Jack Draper, long seen as the heir apparent to Andy Murray, finally stepped up and delivered an “aha!” moment on home soil.

As BBC commentator Andrew Castle pointed out, the timing of Draper’s straight-sets win over Carlos Alcaraz – the world No2 and reigning Wimbledon champion – felt especially poignant after Murray’s agonising withdrawal from the tournament with back trouble the previous evening.

“Isn’t it strange,” Castle said. “Twenty-four hours after Andy, it’s almost like ‘here you go, it’s your turn!’ I wish Andy all the best and hope he can play Wimbledon. But it is incredible. He [Draper] is only going to get better.”

Despite its lack of depth, British tennis always seems to keep Wimbledon supplied with at least one juicy prospect. Until the mid-Noughties, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski were real threats on the lawns of SW19. Now, with Murray apparently preparing his retirement statement, Draper has shown the ability to beat the best.

Draper’s 7-6, 6-3 victory was the cherry on the top of what had already been a stellar week. Having landed his maiden ATP title in Stuttgart on Sunday, he replaced Cameron Norrie as British No1 on Monday and has now beaten a top-four player for the first time.

Jack Draper
Draper became Britain's No1 earlier in the week and, whatever happens over the next few days, can head to Wimbledon full of confidence - Getty Images/Luke Walker

“It feels like a bit of an overnight success, but I have been working for so many years now,” said Draper, who promptly withdrew from next week’s event in Eastbourne in the confident knowledge that he has already racked up seven grass-court wins ahead of Wimbledon.

“After my injuries last year [especially the torn shoulder tendon that forced him to miss the whole of 2023 grass-court season], I really started to fully invest in my tennis mentally, physically, emotionally. Since September last year. I have been making so many sacrifices and putting in the work all the time.”

The striking thing about Draper’s victory was the way he took the aggressive option on every shot, rushing the net regularly and smacking service returns past the bewildered Alcaraz.

The shock must have been all the greater for the Wimbledon champion because Draper did not use to play this way. In their two previous meetings – which produced a three-set win for Alcaraz in Basel in 2022 and then an early retirement from Draper in Indian Wells last year – the underdog had deployed a much more conservative game style.

But with the advent of a new voice in his coaching team over the past month – former world No6 Wayne Ferreira – Draper has decided to take the bull by the horns at last.

“The period after Australia up until the grass was really difficult for me,” said Draper, who kept competing strongly against a series of more experienced opponents without bringing home any eye-catching wins. “And then after the clay court season, I spoke to my team. I just had to commit to being more aggressive. I was losing those matches because I wasn’t willing to grab the match and take it on my own terms.

“So I’d say the biggest difference from my side is less fear of making errors, going after the ball more, and trying to play to win instead of play for the opponents to miss. Often at this level, you drop the ball short, they don’t miss too much.”

Carlos Alcaraz
Carlos Alcaraz had no answer to Draper's aggressive game in west London - AFP/Henry Nichols

Draper smacked eight aces against Alcaraz, who has arguably the best return game on the ATP Tour, and produced some highlight-reel strokeplay. Nothing was more impressive than the way he resisted a late Alcaraz surge in the seventh game of the second set, fending off the only break point he faced in the match with a magical half-volley onto the sideline.

A week ago, Draper had never won an ATP title nor defeated a reigning major champion. Now he has ticked off both boxes, just in time for Wimbledon. And the result has been a new sense of freedom. On Thursday, he claimed his first break of the Alcaraz serve by belting a backhand return up the line.

“When I kept losing 7-6 in the third, I felt like I had a little bit of a mental block, as well,” said Draper. “Then I think last week, getting over the line, I feel really calm [coming back to London]. I think it’s because I proved to myself I really do belong at this level and I can get through those tough moments against really good players like Berrettini or Tiafoe [whom he beat in Stuttgart], today Alcaraz.

“I’m building confidence the whole time. It’s helping me to feel like I belong. I suppose it’s just a process of, you know, confidence takes time, belief takes time, and I have had to be very patient.”

By ending Alcaraz’s 13-match winning streak on grass, Draper became the first British player to defeat the top seed at Queen’s since 1972. That season, John Paish eliminated Stan Smith – who would go on to win Wimbledon less than four weeks later – in the quarter-finals.

Draper will play Tommy Paul, the world No13 from the USA, in Friday’s quarter-final. “His mentality is a bit better,” said a gracious Alcaraz. “He’s always in a positive way. If he plays like this, I think he’s a contender to do really well in Wimbledon.”