Jack Draper justified the faith shown in him by Great Britain captain Leon Smith by coming from behind to defeat Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis in a dramatic opening rubber in Manchester on Wednesday afternoon.
Draper’s run to the fourth round of the US Open had earned him not just a second Great Britain call-up but a first appearance, with Smith picking him ahead of his top-ranked player Cameron Norrie and former world number one Andy Murray.
The Lawn Tennis Association reported ticket sales of more than 9,000 for the tie at the AO Arena and the crowd were treated to an exciting clash, with Draper breaking Kokkinakis when he served for the match, before coming through a deciding tie-break to win 6-7 (6), 6-3, 7-6 (4).
They were on their feet when Draper drilled a final backhand winner down the line 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, massive crowd in here. It’s amazing to play my first Davis Cup tie in the UK in this sort of arena. I’m just so happy to be here and grateful Leon trusted me and put me out here today.”
Like Draper, 27-year-old Kokkinakis knows all too well how much physical frailty can stymie a career but he is a player with big weapons who has had some standout victories.
He won the Australian Open doubles title last year with his good friend Nick Kyrgios, while in Melbourne this year he and Murray contested a near six-hour duel ending after 4am.
It took a few games for the two 6ft 4in powerhouses to find their rhythm, with Draper forced to save two break points in his second service game.
He settled well thereafter, particularly on serve, and he had a set point on the Kokkinakis serve at 4-5 only for a backhand down the line to catch the top of the tape and drop wide.
The tie-break was as tight as the 12 games that preceded it but, after saving one set point with a big serve, Draper was unable to prevent Kokkinakis taking the second.
The set had taken more than an hour so it was a blow to Draper to lose it but he responded in the perfect fashion, taking advantage of a loose game from his opponent to claim the first break at the start of the second.
The 21-year-old was virtually untouchable on serve now while his heavy forehand was mopping up the ones that did come back.
He broke again to take the set and had all the momentum at the start of the decider but Kokkinakis dug in and looked to have made the crucial move at 4-4, taking advantage of an untimely dip from Draper to break.
However, closing out matches has never been the Australian’s strong point and back came Draper, a huge roar greeting the re-break.
The young British player produced the shot of the match in the next game, channelling Carlos Alcaraz by chasing to retrieve a lob and sending the ball back at full stretch past a bewildered Kokkinakis.
Draper looked in trouble when he trailed 4-2 in the tie-break but he roared back with five points in a row.
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