Jack Draper justified the confidence shown by Great Britain captain Leon Smith when he came from behind to beat Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis in a thrilling opening of the Davis Cup rubber in Manchester.
Draper’s run to the fourth round of the US Open earned him not only a second call-up to Great Britain, but his debut as well, with Smith selecting him ahead of his top-ranked player Cameron Norrie and former world number one Andy Murray.
The Tennis Association reported ticket sales of more than 9,000 tickets for the match at AO Arena and the crowd enjoyed a thrilling clash, with Draper breaking Kokkinakis on serve for the match before taking a deciding tiebreak to win 6-7(6) 6-3 7-6(4).
They were on their feet when Draper curled a final backhand down the line after two hours and 52 minutes to give Britain the perfect start against last year’s runners-up.
Speaking on court, Draper said: “There’s nothing better. It was a real battle, and a great crowd here. It’s amazing to be playing my first Davis Cup match in the UK in this kind of arena. I’m very happy to be here.” “I’m grateful that Leon trusted me and got me here today.”
Like Draper, the 27-year-old Kokkinakis knows all too well how much physical weakness can hinder his career, but he is a player with big guns and has some notable wins.
He won the doubles title at the Australian Open last year with good friend Nick Kyrgios, while in Melbourne this year he and Murray fought a nearly six-hour duel that ended just after 4am.
It took a few games for the two 6-foot-4 players to find their rhythm, with Draper having to save two break points on his second serve game.
He settled down well after that, especially on serve, and had a set point on Kokkinakis’ serve at 4-5 only for a backhand down the line to catch the top of the bar and fall wide.
The tiebreak was as close as the 12 games that preceded it, but after saving a set point with a strong serve, Draper was unable to prevent Kokkinakis from winning the second.
The set lasted more than an hour, so losing Draper was a huge blow, but he responded in perfect fashion, taking advantage of a losing game from his opponent to claim the first break of serve at the start of the second.
The 21-year-old was virtually untouchable on serve now as his heavy forehand cleared the returns.
He broke again to win the set and had all the momentum going into the deciding set, but Kokkinakis held on and appeared to make the decisive move at 4-4, taking advantage of Draper’s sudden pullback to break serve.
However, closing games have never been the Australian’s strong point, and Draper was back, roaring loudly to welcome the break.
The young Briton produced the shot of the match in the next play, guiding Carlos Alcaraz through the chase to win the ball back and sending the ball back at full stretch past a flustered Kokkinakis.
Draper appeared to be in trouble when he trailed 4-2 in the tiebreak, but came back with five straight points to seal the win.