Jack Draper briefly drove his opponent along the road to distraction at the US Open last night, but admitted that he later ran out of gas.
The 21 year-old lefthander became the last Brit to depart the singles at Flushing Meadows when he was beaten 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4 in the fourth round by world number eight Andrey Rublev on a punishingly sweaty Labour Day afternoon.
That it was no bank holiday for Rublev was a testament to what an awkward customer Draper is, but ultimately the British player’s shortage of recent matches and lack of experience over the best-of-five format was a decisive factor.
Describing conditions as being ‘like a sauna’, Draper conceded that the physical intensity brought by a top ten player had been a problem: ‘I barely played any matches this year. I need more match exposure at this high level to be able to come to these tournaments and feel like I can really cope for four hours,’ he said.
‘I can train with more intensity now and remember that match. I knew I was knackered at the end of it. I’m coming away having had four good matches at a Slam and and I’m going home injury free, that’s a huge step in the right direction for me.
Britain’s Jack Draper was knocked out of the US Open after losing to No8 seed Andrey Rublev
Rublev earned victory on Labour Day as Draper’s shortage of recent matches cost him
Draper, however, walked away with £225,000 in prize money as he continued to his potential
‘It’s my just my physicality and being able to stay on court consistently. Once I do that, and prove that to myself I think I’ll be able to be one of the best players in the world because my tennis is right there.’
That optimistic assessment may prove accurate over time, and a further consolation is that he walked away with £225,000 in prize money and enough points to start reviving a falsely low ranking of 123, caused by the repeat injury hiatuses of this season.
Draper also confirmed that he will be available to play for Great Britain at the Davis Cup finals qualifying group in Manchester next week. After that there is the possibility of having to go back to Challenger events to boost his ranking.
Rublev was impressed by him, but had a plan: ‘I was feeling the ball really well from the start, I thought let’s try to make it as long as possible because Jack is coming back from injury,’ he said.
The Russian had ranted at himself in the second set and went an early break down in the third, but his precision power always made him the likely victor against a wearying opponent.
With the roof closed due to intermittent showers this was the same teeming, noisy Louis Armstrong Stadium on which Draper comfortably disposed of eighth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second round last year, so there were good memories to draw upon.
Draper leaked uncharacteristic backhand errors and he was pulled around the court early on
Rublev grew frustrated, however, screaming at himself as he lost the second set of the game
It did not look that way, however, as he initially struggled to cope with the high tempo game of the Russian, who is all about speed: with his feet, his forehand and his rapid time between serves.
Draper was uncharacteristically leaking backhand errors as he was pulled around the court by his opponent’s rapid fire groundstroking, and struggling to land enough first serves in. It was soon clear why the Russian has such an excellent record against lefthanders, winning 14 of his last 16 against southpaws.
He managed to turn it around in the second set by fending off four break points to hold on for 2-1. While the British player was getting frustrated with a malfunctioning net cord machine the highly-strung Rublev completely lost it at his failure to convert chances.
Curling up on his haunches he began screaming at himself, and the loss of control showed itself in the sixth game when he double faulted to get broken for 4-2. He then missed two break point chances to get back level and there was more self-beration in the style of Basil Fawlty, which is sure to have given encouragement to his younger challenger.
Wimbledon champion and top seed Carlos Alcaraz (pictured) beat Matteo Arnaldi in straight sets to secure a quarter final spot
Draper broke at the start of the third when the Russian shanked a forehand, but Rublev had regained his mental equilibrium and began to make inroads against a serve which overall had been delivering plenty of aces but misfiring too much at the first attempt.
Having levelled for 2-2 he gained the decisive edge by drilling a forehand down the line, ensuring that sheer stamina would play a part.
Carlos Alacaraz avoided the fate of his fellow top seed Iga Swiatek when he made it through to the quarter finals courtesy of a 6-3 6-3 6-4 victory over Italy’s Matteo Arnaldi. The Wimbledon champion was left awaiting the winner of Alex Zverev and Jannik Sinner.
Overnight in her fourth round women’s defending champion Swiatek had found herself outhit by former French Open champion, the number 20 seed Jelena Ostapenko.