The former coach of a rising star at Wimbledon has said he was a “natural-born fighter” on the court – even as a youngster.
Justin Sherring, 50, coached Jack Draper, 19, from the age of five to 15 when he was just starting out in tennis.
Mr Sherring said he was a “real, talented dude” and the pair were extremely competitive when they faced off in games during his early days of training.
“We had just so much fun and he had so much passion for the game,” he told the PA news agency.
“We were really competitive with each other but we’re really, really good mates now.
“He was crazy competitive, a natural-born sort of fighter,” he said, adding he “just wanted to win so badly”.
Mr Sherring said: “I basically put his whole game together over the years, you don’t really do a lot of work post-15, you’re just waiting for the players to grow and mature because at 15, he certainly wasn’t the beast he is today, he wasn’t 6ft 4in. He’s got weapons now.”
Draper started off as a member at the Sutton Tennis and Squash Club, south London, where his mother Nicky was the head coach. He later moved to Weybridge Tennis Academy, in Surrey, where Mr Sherring was a tennis coach and is now the tennis director.
Mr Sherring told PA that Draper’s mother scouted him due to his reputation for training other stars, such as Chris Eaton, Joe Salisbury and Johanna Konta.
“I worked really closely with his family,” he said.
“We’d spend hours and hours, his mum and I, just working with him. I’d be coaching and she’d be picking up the balls. Then his dad would come and hit a few balls with him, so it was a real family effort all the way through.”
During the first day of this year’s Wimbledon tournament on Monday, Mr Sherring watched Draper play his senior debut against Novak Djokovic with Nicky in the Centre Court seats.
The match saw Draper give an initial strong start against Djokovic, but the men’s singles defending champion hit back to reach round two.
“We used to talk about him playing on Wimbledon’s centre court a lot,” Mr Sherring said.
“When you’ve got kids that really aspire to great things, don’t bore them with county championships and regional events, talk about the big stuff. Someone’s got to do it.
“We knew he’d play at the grand slams and hopefully he’ll win them in the future. He played a lot of good stuff today and showed that’s possible.
“Nicky and I kept looking at each other during the match and saying, ‘What a journey. What a great journey’. I was also sat with Jack’s physio and kept putting my arm around him and pinching him saying, ‘This is real, you know?’”
Ahead of the match on Monday, Mr Sherring said rather than give him any final pearls of wisdom, he sent one thoughtful message to him.
“Loads of people would have been chucking advice at him and he should really be just listening to his coach,” he said. “All I sent him was a heart emoji, that’s all. And he sent one back too.”