The last 16 US Open finishes and a first ATP Tour final have made 2023 Jack Draper the most successful year of his young career so far.
But for the 21-year-old Briton, success was tinged with sadness as his grandmother Brenda – a former tennis player and coach – did not recognize his achievements.
Draper’s grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that causes dementia and a gradual decline in the brain’s cognitive function.
Draper, the latest ‘Sports Champion’ to join the Alzheimer’s Society in the hope of raising awareness of the condition, described it as a “brutal disease” which had a “devastating” effect on his family.
“As a former tennis player and coach who worked with many of the top players in the country, it was devastating for me and my family to see my grandmother’s condition deteriorate,” Draper said.
“Nana was one of my biggest supporters growing up and I’ve always been very close to her, but it’s a disease that completely takes away the person you know.
“My Dad, who is Nana’s main carer, still takes her to the National Tennis Center in Roehampton to watch me train, but he doesn’t know who I am. And when my tennis matches is on TV, he tells Nana that it’s me but it doesn’t register with him.
“This is probably the saddest part for me and my family, that she won’t know or talk to us anymore. Nana is a big supporter of my tennis, and I hope she can see and appreciate all the things I achieved as I know he would be very proud of me.”
One in three people born in the UK today will go on to develop dementia, which has been described as the country’s biggest killer.
Draper’s grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2015, aged 70, six years before his debut on the ATP Tour.
Draper is ranked 61st in the ATP after a year in which he earned a career-best last-16 US Open finish and was defeated by Adrian Mannarino in his first ATP Tour final last month.
He said his grandmother’s experience inspired him to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
“In the midst of a very sad and difficult time, you have to try to find moments of laughter and love them. “said Draper.
“Sometimes, he is funny and we laugh a lot. However, 10 years ago he could not do any of this, but if he sees a child or a small child, he still smiles – which informs us all that while his brain is gone, he is always in the heart.
“I know firsthand how devastating this disease is and the impact it has not only on the person diagnosed, but also on family, friends and caregivers. ultimately ending the devastation dementia causes.”