Mark (left) and Scott Draper. Mark will be in town today to compete at the Ballina New Years Tennis Open.
Mark (left) and Scott Draper. Mark will be in town today to compete at the Ballina New Years Tennis Open.

Draper wants to make Mark at Open

By ADAM HICKS IN HIS first attempt, Mark Draper didn't make it past the second round of the Ballina New Year's Tennis Open. But weeks later he played in his first grand slam.

"Ballina hasn't been a happy hunting ground for me," Draper told The Northern Star.

"I lost in the second round in '98 then went down and qualified for the Australian Open."

Later the same year, Draper qualified for Wimbledon where he got past then world number four and hometown favourite Greg Rusedski in the first round.

"I got lucky, but it was still a thrill playing in a packed house," he said.

Rusedski hurt his foot and retired after three sets and Draper went on to lose to American Todd Martin in round two.

Remarkably, he returned to Ballina the following year only to make another early exit.

"I don't know why but I've struggled there," he said. After a nine-year absence, Draper is returning to Ballina for the New Year's Open which starts today for another attempt and this time he comes with blistering form.

"I've lost one match in the last 18 months ... won about 10 tournaments around Brisbane," he said.

From his Gold Coast base, Draper helps train several talented juniors including world junior champion Bernard Tomic, 15, who is currently attempting to qualify for the Australian Open as a wildcard.

His coaching work also saw him approached to be a hitting partner for former Australian Open champion Amelie Mauresmo.

"I had three sessions with her two weeks ago in preparation for the tournament at Royal Pines," Draper said.

"She's a lovely girl. She's a great mover, uses a lot of variety, heavy top spin and likes to come to the net. She plays the same game that men do but without the power.

"A lot of the general public would probably think they (top women players) are competitive with the top men but it's not really the case. I could beat the top women.

"Guys are bigger and quicker and serve faster. Ten years ago the gap was bigger, the power wasn't there. Now they can hit with a lot of power, the gap is narrowing." Dream one on one

There was also a time when Draper scored every man's dream: a one on one with Anna Kournikova.

"I'd heard she could be hard to deal with but she was nice enough ... and easy on the eyes," he said.

"She also asked me to hit with her at the Australian Open so I thought why not."

Draper is the older brother of Scott Draper who is perhaps Australia's best all-round sportsman at the moment.

After years as a professional tennis player, Scott changed sports and qualified as a professional golfer a couple of years ago.

It's a path Mark hopes to follow as he is a scratch golfer himself. From Ballina, Draper is flying to%Melbourne to compete in the Australian Mid Amateur Golf Championships for players aged 30 to 55, where the winner will receive an entry card for this year's Australian Golf Open.

"I've been playing good golf lately so I'm going down there with a decent chance of winning, but I'll need to play well," he said.

"If I win, it would mean both Scott and I will have played at the Australian golf and tennis Opens."

But which sport does he prefer? "Golf is my favourite fractionally," he said.

"It gets more of the juices flowing. I still enjoy playing tennis and being competitive but golf is more like my personality. It's more laidback. You play a shot then walk."

Draper is seeded No 2 for the Ballina tournament which is worth $6500. Play starts this morning with the finals scheduled to be played on Sunday.

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