As the best tennis players in the world converged on the California desert for the Indian Wells Masters last year, Jack Draper was not among them. He was making significant progress and had won three ATP Challenger events early in the season, but was scrapping in the lower levels of the sport, still waiting to make the definitive step up.
This year marks Draper’s arrival at the top of tennis, his first full season on the ATP Tour, and the tests will keep on coming. On Saturday in Indian Wells he will take part in an all-British second-round battle against Dan Evans, the 24th seed.
Saturday will also be a busy one for the other prominent Britons. Emma Raducanu will face Magda Linette, the 20th seed, and Andy Murray plays the 15th seed Pablo Carreño Busta.
For Draper, meeting a top-30 player will be a measure of his form after yet more physical issues at the start of the year. After his off-season preparation was ruined by a virus, he suffered from cramp in his Australian Open first-round defeat against Rafael Nadal and then withdrew from all tournament due to other fitness problems. Draper played brilliantly in his 6-1, 6-1 first-round win against Leandro Riedi, but Evans’s court sense, athleticism and slice backhand will be far more disruptive.
The pair have trained with each other numerous times at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton and know each other’s games well. In Australia, Evans was extremely complimentary, noting that in addition to Draper’s obvious physical weapons, his movement and mindset position him well.
“I think it is a good thing that tennis is not the be-all and end-all, and his perspective is good on life and tennis,” he said. “I think that is a massive thing. And just reading some of the things he says bodes well for future years. I think he is going to be pretty level-headed and I don’t think it is going to be his tennis that is going to be the issue.”
Evans has not enjoyed an ideal start to the season and has not won a match since Melbourne, where he lost in the third round. While the slow conditions will blunt Draper’s serve and first-strike game style, Evans’s all-court game is also better suited for faster surfaces and his backhand slice is less vicious on such a high-bouncing surface. As tends to be the case in Indian Wells, everyone is fighting the conditions and those who adapt well succeed.
After Raducanu’s resourceful 6-2, 6-3 win over Danka Kovinic on Thursday, she told the BBC that in addition to the tonsillitis and wrist injury that affected her preparations, she had woken up feeling sick and made a very late decision to compete. “Today before the match, I did not warm up,” she said. “Two minutes before I was called I was sleeping in the treatment room so I’m just proud to have got out there and then won.”
She will next face one of the in-form players of this season. Linette counterpunches very well and will be extremely difficult to break down in slower conditions. Raducanu easily defeated Linette 6-2, 6-2 at the Korea Open last September, but since then the Polish player has enjoyed the best period of her career, reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
After saving match points in three of his seven victories this year and being two points from defeat in two others, Murray’s 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4 win over Argentina’s Tomas Etcheverry in 3hr 12min was somehow one of his most emphatic wins in this remarkable start to the season. Despite the tight scoreline, Murray played very well in a high-quality match against a talented young player.
Murray will next face one of the tour’s best counterpunchers in Carreño Busta. While the Spaniard has been in poor form so far this year, compiling a 1-3 record, he always presents a difficult task and their attacking styles ensure that it will be an extremely physical battle. Against a younger, fresher opponent who relishes grinding opponents down, Murray will have to be the aggressor and dictate with his forehand as he did in his first round. Another lengthy, exhausting encounter awaits.