Jack Draper justified the faith placed in him by British captain Leon Smith by coming from behind to defeat Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis in a dramatic Davis Cup opener in Manchester.
Draper’s run to the fourth round of the US Open earned him not only a second call-up to Britain but also a first appearance, with Smith choosing him ahead of his best player Cameron Norrie and former world number one Andy Murray.
The Lawn Tennis Association reported ticket sales of over 9,000 for the tie at the AO Arena and the crowd was treated to a thrilling clash, with Draper breaking Kokkinakis while serving for the match before winning a decisive tiebreak to win 6- 7 (6) 6-3 7-6 (4).
They were on their feet when Draper scored a final backhand winner after two hours and 52 minutes to give Britain the perfect start against last year’s finalists.
Speaking on court, Draper said: “There’s nothing better. It was a real battle, a huge crowd here. It’s amazing to play my first Davis Cup match in the UK in this kind of arena. I’m so happy to be here. and grateful, Leon trusted me and put me here today.
Like Draper, Kokkinakis, 27, knows all too well how physical frailty can hinder a career, but he’s a big-armed player who has had some remarkable victories.
He won the Australian Open doubles title last year with good friend Nick Kyrgios, while in Melbourne this year he and Murray faced off in a nearly six-hour duel that is finished after 4 a.m.
It took a few games for the two 6-foot-4 powerhouses to find their rhythm, with Draper forced to save two break points in his second service game.
He settled in well after that, especially on serve, and he had a set point on Kokkinakis’ serve at 4-5 only for a backhand down the line to catch the top of the ribbon and miss.
The tiebreak was as close as the 12 games that preceded it but, after saving a set point with a big serve, Draper was unable to stop Kokkinakis from taking second.
The set had lasted over an hour, so it was a blow for Draper to lose it, but he responded in perfect fashion, taking advantage of some loose play from his opponent to claim the first break at the start of the second.
The 21-year-old was now virtually untouchable on serve as his heavy forehand mopped up those coming back.
He broke again to take the set and had all the momentum early in the deciding match, but Kokkinakis dug in and appeared to have made the crucial move at 4-4, taking advantage of an ill-timed dive from Draper to break.
However, closing out matches was never the Australian’s strong suit and Draper returned, a huge roar greeting the break.
The young British player made the shot of the match in the next play, channeling Carlos Alcaraz as he pursued to collect a lob and volleyed the ball home past a bewildered Kokkinakis.
Draper looked in trouble when down 4-2 in the tiebreak, but came back strong with five straight points to claim the victory.