Jack Draper’s promising US Open run ends after defeat by Andrey Rublev | US Open Tennis 2023

After a completely unexpected, brilliant eight days that offered both himself and the rest of the tennis world a much-needed reminder of his considerable talents, Jack Draper’s US Open run came to an end in the fourth round on a humid Monday afternoon in New York.

Andrey Rublev, the eighth seed, used all of his experience and nous to narrowly edge out his younger challenger 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 after a gruelling 2hr 45min on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Despite the defeat, the past week presents a significant step forward for Draper as he continues to find his way back after missing nearly three months with a shoulder injury. It is a return complicated further by him sustaining a separate shoulder tear a week before the US Open.

Most players need time and match experience to re-establish their rhythm, so it is a reflection of the 21-year-old’s talent and ability that, with few matches and difficult preparation, he has been able to compete at such a high level.

“I gave it all mentally but I was pretty drained honestly,” said Draper. “I was speaking to my coach and now that we are fit, we can go back to base and try and work each day to be better with that intensity. It is tough when you have been out for so long to have no feedback. You come here and play against a top-10 player in the world and they show you their intensity and what they can do on the court. And how you are going to be effective against them? I can train in a different way now.”

Although Rublev may not be the most prominent figure of his generation, he exemplifies the consistent excellence that Draper is aspiring to achieve. The 25-year-old has now reached nine grand slam quarter-finals in his career, with three this year alone. He will once again look for his first major semi-final this week.

Early on, Rublev served well and dictated from inside the baseline with his forehand, consistently forcing the world No 123 back. While Draper’s forehand can be such a heavy, destructive stroke when he fully trusts it to take control of points, he can also be tentative with it, the topspin dropping short and allowing elite opponents such as Rublev the opportunity to take control

Andrey Rublev celebrates reaching another grand slam quarter-final. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

On a day so humid that it rained on and off throughout, forcing them to play under the stadium roof, Draper was initially unhappy with his string tension in the conditions, sending off rackets to be restrung after just two games. He was also bemused by the electronic service “let” system, which he believed called numerous lets incorrectly.

At 1-1 in the second set, as he tried to hold off the Russian’s suffocating aggression, Draper thought he had saved a break point with an ace before it was eventually called a let. His frustration hyped him up and he played his most authoritative tennis of the match, directed by excellent serving and his brilliant backhand down the line. Draper broke for the first time to take a 4-2 lead before confidently serving out the set.

By the third set, he was unloading on forehands as he took an early break and led 2-0. But Rublev reeled him back, showing his ability to think clearly even through his typical anger. The Russian recognised his opponent’s fatigue and he looked to make the decisive points physical, elongating rallies and charging Draper with consistently hitting through him. Rublev gradually broke Draper down towards the end of the third set and as the younger player’s energy levels waned, Rublev powered to victory in four sets.

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Despite his exhaustion, Draper left the stadium encouraged by his first step back on court and hopeful that this is a new beginning as he tries to recover his ranking and rise to new heights. “After last week, I was obviously very gone,” he said. “I thought that maybe I’d hurt myself again, and I wasn’t going to be able to play this week. I’m coming away having had four good matches at a grand slam and I’m going home injury-free, that’s a huge step in the right direction for me and the No 1 thing for me now is to look after my body and make sure that I can end the year strong and just keep going.”

After spending so much time on the sidelines, with doubt naturally creeping in, this week has particularly served as a much-needed reminder for himself of his talent. It is, as ever, clear that his physical issues are his only obstacle to being able to compete at this level on a regular basis.

“With the amount of injuries I’ve had and the amount of times I’ve not been able to compete, and I’ve had difficult times in my career, it has honestly been tough to believe I can go all the way in a grand slam right now,” said Draper.

“But if I stay fit and go to Australia and I’m in much better shape and I’ve proved it to myself then there is no reason why I can’t be one of the top players in the world, I do believe that.”

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