A little over six months ago, 21-year-old Liam Draxl said goodbye to the University of Kentucky after a standout four-year college career.
Ranked outside the top 600 as he turned pro, he’s already cut that in half.
And last week, he was named to the Canadian Davis Cup team that will take on Korea this weekend at Stade IGA in Montreal.
Let’s get to know him a little bit.
A top junior
Draxl is another player who didn’t go through the Tennis Canada system. His father, Brian, is a tennis coach. And Liam did his own thing, spending time at the Saddlebrook Academy in Florida.
That didn’t stop him from getting to the top 10 as a junior during a fairly fallow period on the Canadian side.
He peaked at No. 9 in May, 2019 and among his high points were the singles final at the Roehampton warmup to junior WImbledon that summer and a win at the J1 in Carson, Calif. that spring.
Among his junior scalps were Holger Rune and Lorenzo Musetti. And he defeated Ben Shelton at an ITF tournament a few years ago. (His draw at the Roland Garros junior event in 2019 was tough – he lost in three sets to Arthur Cazaux, the youngster who made such a splash at the Australian Open this year, and who nearly beat Félix Auger-Aliassime Thursday in Montpellier).
Draxl also made the junior Wimbledon doubles final and the US Open junior doubles semifinal in 2019.
A top collegian
Draxl chose the University of Kentucky, whose head coach Cedric Kaufmann had long been a presence at his matches (you can spot him in the photo gallery above).
He was a two-time All-American, held the No. 1 ranking and also captained the team.
Draxl and Montrealer Gabriel Diallo (who will be playing No. 1 this weekend at Davis Cup) led the way at Kentucky for a literal gaggle of Canadians to follow.
Alexandre Leblanc (who is doing his fifth year at William & Mary) was there for four years and is the son of former player and current Tennis Canada board member Sébastian Leblanc.
Countrymen Jaden Weekes, Taha Baadi, Joshua Lapadat and Christophe Clément all feature on the current roster, with Lapadat succeeding Draxl as captain.
Here they are last summer, talking about it.
But Draxl, who said it was a tough decision to go pro rather than return to Lexington for a fifth year, decided it was time to brave the wilds of the lower-level pro circuit.
Here’s an interview he did with Open Court last summer in Laval, talking about the road ahead.
A Fledgling Pro
After that Laval ITF, where Draxl reached the semis, he went on a 14-1 run at the $15K level with two titles and a final. He also won his first career title at the Challenger level in Calgary last fall.
With his college ranking, Draxl is eligible for the “Accelerator” program, which allows top-ranked collegians to get a certain number of main-draw wild cards into the bigger Challenger events.
Now that he’s in the top 300, he won’t need them for the smaller ones, and began his 2024 season with a pair of Challengers on clay in Buenos Aires.
Draxl has excelled at every previous level, although that’s no guarantee of success at the pro level. But he’s built himself a solid base on which to improve as the competition gets better.
And this week, he’ll get a taste of representing his country at the top level, even if he doesn’t actually get on court.
(We often thought, when he was in the juniors, that he was sort of a small-sized version of Vasek Pospisil – some of it was the blonde locks and the rosy cheeks. And there he is, standing right next to him).