Great Britain’s brightest male prospect, 22-year-old Jack Draper, came through an anxiety attack to defeat Marcos Giron over five sets, and then vomited in a courtside bin.
In the circumstances, this was a courageous performance from Draper, who had his blood pressure checked by a doctor at the end of the second set. He looked flushed and flustered at this stage – a condition that most observers ascribed to the brutal heat and humidity at the Australian Open.
But later, in his post-match press conference, Draper explained that: “It was more kind of psychological stress today that was causing my fatigue rather than the physical nature [of the match]. Because I felt better in the fifth set than I did the first.”
Asked to describe the symptoms, Draper explained: “It feels like my breathing starts to really struggle, and I can’t get the oxygen in. My chest was very tight, it was referring to my back, and I couldn’t hold myself up. That’s what stress does to you. It’s something I’m going to have to speak to someone about and try and figure out methods in those situations – because it will happen again for sure – to try to calm me down.”
For all his undoubted talent, Draper has developed a reputation as something of a “sicknote” (to borrow the term once applied to Tottenham midfielder Darren Anderton). In this very tournament last year, he was struck down by abdominal cramps in the third set of his meeting with Rafael Nadal. He then spent the next few months battling a chronic hip problem, before tearing a shoulder tendon shortly before the French Open.
British tennis fans are awaiting the moment when Draper puts the niggles behind him, and starts delivering on the potential that has seen him tipped for the world’s top ten. It seems entirely plausible that this victory – in which he pushed through his fears to finish with aplomb – will mark a watershed in his career.
“I always felt like the physical issues – a lot of that has been for me mental as well,” he explained after his win over Giron. “Dealing with stress, dealing with my emotions. Always first round you feel a little bit more out of breath. It’s obviously because of the tension. I think I had it in Miami when I collapsed a few years ago.”
So what made the difference this time? How was Draper able to subdue the relentless Giron – himself one of the fittest players on the circuit – and claim 12 of the last 14 games in his 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-0, 6-2 victory? The answer is simple enough: he is in career-best shape.
Even if Draper might have felt extremely uncomfortable on the court, in both mental and physical terms, a winter of intense conditioning work with fitness trainer Steve Kotze meant that his muscles never actually cramped up. (At least, not until he was throwing up at the conclusion of the match, when that’s exactly what happened to his abdominals.)
The turning point came when Draper found himself trailing by two sets to one, after a little more than two hours of scrambling and shot-making. At that critical moment, he left the court and gave himself a talking to in the bathroom mirror. “You have a five-minute break,” he explained later. “I tried to slow my breathing down. Then, when I felt like I was calm, I had a go at myself. Maybe less calm after that.
“I’ve heard Djokovic say it a few times in his career. He has gone two sets to love down, and he has a go at himself. I’m definitely someone who has always tried to have good positive self-talk. I looked in the mirror and said, ‘Come on, we need to try and do this. I know it’s only going to be two sets now, and give it your all. It’s the Australian Open. Only going to be here once this year.’ Just confident talk.”
The final set was a nervy period. Happily, the grandstand overlooking Court Eight was composed largely of British fans, who created a partisan Davis Cup-style vibe. Draper needed all the extra energy that the crowd could supply, because he looked like a man on his last legs. After moving to 4-2 in the decider with a delicious drop-shot/volley combination, he hunched over and leaned on the side of the court for a minute or so before he was able to continue.
The final rally was another epic, but Draper sealed the deal with one of his trademark shots: the running forehand pass. There was an echo here of Andy Murray’s famous five-set comeback against Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon in 2008 – the match after which Murray was pictured flexing his bicep for the photographers. “I wanted to show that I’ve worked really hard on my condition,” Murray would explain.
Draper’s epic win, which earns him a crack at 14th seed Tommy Paul in the next round, feels like it will be similarly significant in the long run. Admittedly, though, the associated photo – of a man with his head in a bin – is rather less salubrious.
Boulter into second round
Katie Boulter defeated Yuan Yue for her first Australian Open victory in five years.
The British number one has lost in qualifying in Melbourne the previous two years but made rapid strides up the rankings in 2023 and was impressive in a 7-5 7-6 (1) victory over in-form Yuan.
The only missed step from Boulter, who has been subject of a lot of attention as the girlfriend of Australia’s big hope Alex De Minaur, was two match points that went begging on her own serve at 5-4 in the second set.
But she regrouped well and dominated the tie-break for just her second main-draw victory at Melbourne Park.
It was a tight contest throughout but Boulter showed once again that she is a player for the big occasion, coming out on top in nearly all the key moments.
A break for 6-5 in the opening set gave her the chance to serve it out, which she took in hot, breezy conditions.
Yuan, ranked seven places lower than Boulter at 61 in the world, reached the semi-finals of the WTA Tour event in Hobart last week, while her opponent also came into the tournament high on confidence after the best win of her career over Jessica Pegula at the United Cup.
There was nothing to separate the pair in the second set until Boulter, who had been under more pressure on her serve, broke to lead 5-4.
But her composure wavered at the wrong time, the 27-year-old serving a double fault on her first match point and then making a backhand error on the second as Yuan pulled back level.
She did not dwell on the missed opportunities, though, winning the first five points of the tie-break and taking her third match point to join fellow Britons Cameron Norrie and Jack Draper in the second round.
Norrie races past Varillas
Cameron Norrie dispelled injury worries to ease into the second round of the Australian Open.
The British number one pulled out of the ASB Classic in Auckland, the city where he grew up, last week ahead of his quarter-final because of a left wrist problem.
Norrie admitted he was concerned with so little time to recover but there were no causes for alarm in a 6-4 6-4 6-2 victory over Peru’s Juan Pablo Varillas as he became the first British winner of the fortnight.
It was a kind draw for Norrie, although 81st-ranked Varillas did push Alexander Zverev to five sets in the first round here last year before going on to make the fourth round of the French Open.
Norrie looked a little tentative to start with but settled into a rhythm of lengthy baseline rallies and finally took his sixth opportunity to break serve in the fifth game.
The 19th seed took full control of the contest in the second set, finding more penetration on his groundstrokes and opening up a 5-1 lead.
Varillas fought back with three games in a row but Norrie served it out at the second time of asking and was untroubled in the third.
Evans crashes out
Dan Evans was unable to complete a perfect day for the British players at the Australian Open.
After first-round wins for Norrie, Draper, Boulter and Raducanu at Melbourne Park Evans was beaten 4-6, 7-6 (8), 6-2, 7-6 (4) by Italian Lorenzo Sonego.
The British number two admitted on Friday that he is not yet back to his physical best after tearing his calf in October.
He began very well against talented Sonego and the result might well have been different had he taken a second-set tie-break in which he led 4-0. But Sonego fought back well, saving one set point at 8-7 before clinching it on his third chance, and he was the stronger player thereafter.
Evans called the trainer to have his thigh massaged but continued to fight doggedly, saving seven break points at 4-4 in the fourth set.
He then recovered from 5-0 down in the tie-break but agonisingly missed a forehand that would have levelled proceedings and Sonego took his first match point.