Jack Draper in action against Cameron Norrie at Queen's
Wimbledon tradition states that the Centre Court schedule opens on the first Monday with the men’s defending champion – which, in this year’s case, will be world No1 Novak Djokovic.
On the other side of the net? Britain’s brightest prospect in a decade: 19-year-old Jack Draper, whose booming left-handed serve helped him reach the quarter-finals of Queen’s last week.
What an entry to SW19 this will be for Draper, whose previous claim to fame was being the younger son of former Lawn Tennis Association chief executive Roger Draper.
No-one will expect him to win against Djokovic – who is the strongest men’s favourite at Wimbledon since Roger Federer’s heyday, some 15 years ago. But this is an early chance for Draper to test himself against arguably the most complete player the game has ever seen.
Tall, animated and furiously competitive, Draper has already earned comparisons with the young Andy Murray. He has something of the same gangling energy on the court, as well as a similar build – like a young sapling who will gradually fill out into a sturdy oak.
“The thing that stands out with Jack, and always has done, is that he is a phenomenal natural competitor,” said Calvin Betton, a British coach who first saw the young Draper at Under-10 level.
“When he started out, he was a little kid who made a lot of balls. Then he had a massive growth spurt and became a shot-maker with a huge serve. But whatever style he was playing, he never knew when he was beaten.
“He won three $25,000 Futures events in Britain in 2019, which was a big deal for a 17-year-old. When you normally see a young lad doing that, they are crucifying people – just playing them off the court. Jack was different: he was coming from a set down, or saving match points. He has a lot of mongrel in his character.”
Draper celebrates after beating Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik at Queen's
Some of this bloody-mindedness might be the result of Draper’s background as the ultimate insider, growing up in Wimbledon village and training at the same National Tennis Centre that his father had just commissioned.
“There was quite a lot of jealousy when I was younger,” Draper told Telegraph Sport last year. “I would often go to junior tournaments and have 15 boys on the balcony I had never seen before willing me on to lose, making noises before I serve, all that sort of stuff. That’s just kids’ stuff, though, isn’t it?
“I realised as I got older, that’s just the way it is. There’s always going to be people thinking that I am getting better treatment or whatever. But at the end of the day, I am the one who has put all my efforts and hard work and sacrifices into being a good tennis player.”
The last few weeks have seen Draper blossom with a pair of victories against top-40 players at Queen’s Club, one of them being his fellow 19-year-old Jannik Sinner. These results were heartwarming for the whole sport in Britain, especially as there was a period last year when he lost his appetite for tennis and took a break from training.
When Draper was asked about this tennis hiatus, he stressed that 2020 was a special case, and that his mojo has returned in earnest this season. “Last year was an extremely tough year for everyone,” he said. “I think we all took a look at ourselves and went from there. But this year I have really got the desire and the motivation to be a great tennis player.”
“There has been times in the past where maybe I have been a bit apprehensive about that,” he added. “But as I’ve gotten mature, as I’ve gotten older, I have started to really realise what I wanted to do and what I’m capable of.”
Like most 19-year-olds, Draper still has a good deal of work to do on his conditioning. In March, he collapsed on the court in Miami with heat exhaustion, having just lost the first set to the experienced Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, and was forced to withdraw from the match.
Encouragingly, he didn’t shrug the incident off, but took it as an indication of an area he needed to improve. He has since recruited Ian Prangley, the fitness trainer who used to work with former British No1 Kyle Edmund, to help him avoid any recurrences.
Monday’s match should give another glimpse of Draper’s enormous potential. With Murray approaching the final act, there is a vacancy opening up for a British tennis darling. And here is the man most qualified to fill it.