Jack Draper wants Djokovic challenge as he sets lofty ambitions after heartbreak

Jack Draper is aiming high after suffering heartbreak in his maiden ATP Tour final. The British No 5 lost to Adrian Mannarino at the Sofia Open on Saturday as the experienced Frenchman came through 7-6(6) 2-6 6-3. Despite missing out on his first tour-level title, Draper is now hoping that he can join the likes of Novak Djokovic and Holger Rune by qualifying for next year’s season-ending ATP Finals.

Draper achieved a major career milestone this week as he reached his first final on the ATP Tour. The 21-year-old already has five Challenger titles to his name but had never been able to reach the championship match on the official tour until now. But the wait for a trophy will have to go on as he narrowly lost out to second seed Mannarino.

The Brit contested a tight opening set but one single mini-break at 6-6 made the difference and the 35-year-old took it 8-6. Draper stormed back, breaking Mannarino twice in the second set. And he couldn’t convert two break points when the world No 25 was serving for it.

Still, Draper is more motivated than ever after watching fellow young star Holger Rune reach the Sofia Open final last year. Rune has since gone on to become a top-10 player, has beaten Djokovic twice, and has qualified for this year’s ATP Finals. “Hopefully that’s the same for me,” the Brit said of Rune’s rise.

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The British No 5 is now hoping that he can also make it to the year-end championships in Turin – a tournament where Djokovic has won the title six times, and where he’d have to face the best players of the season. “Obviously I’m disappointed I lost in the final but I’ll keep working and hopefully I do well next year and can be in Turin,” he added.

Draper is now set to rise 21 places up the rankings to No 62 in the world. He reached a career-high of No 38 at the start of the year before facing several injury setbacks and missing portions of the season. The 21-year-old dropped outside of the world’s top 100 as a result but is already climbing back up and has won nine of his last 10 matches – also picking up a Challenger title in Bergamo last week.

And Draper believes that his injury layoffs have motivated him to work even harder to get to the top. He continued: “I feel so motivated to want to work so hard every match for every point and compete well. And I think with the time I’ve missed off the court, that really helps me coming on to the court, because I haven’t been able to have the opportunity to play as many events.

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“I just had a long hard look at myself. I felt like there wasn’t much that I’d done wrong. Watching lots of the tennis was really difficult and seeing my ranking drop. But I went straight back to it, worked really hard on my physical state and worked hard mentally to get myself back in a position that, when I was fit, I was able to perform at the highest level again and be better than I was. I’m just proud of the way I’ve come back after such a tough year.”

Draper’s 2023 season isn’t over just yet as he is part of Britain’s squad for their upcoming Davis Cup quarter-final tie against Serbia, whose team is headed up by world No 1 Novak Djokovic. Given his recent success, the 21-year-old will surely be on captain Leon Smith’s radar as a pick to contest one of the singles rubbers. And Draper will then look to become one of the top eight players in 2024, which would earn him a spot in the ATP Finals.

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