The Dream Liam Draxl Is Fulfilling
Canadian Liam Draxl played tennis as soon as he could walk. His father Brian is the head pro at the Newmarket Community Tennis Club, where Liam recalls his parents had to drag him off the court at night because their son could not get enough of the sport.
Now aged 21, Draxl is living his childhood dream, having just turned pro this summer following a standout career at the University of Kentucky.
“I always go back to that little kid with blonde hair at the Newmarket Tennis Club and loving it,” Draxl told ATPTour.com at the Calgary National Bank Challenger. “That was my dream and now I get the opportunity to fulfill my dream.”
Being the son of a teaching pro, Draxl’s upbringing meant he would hang out at the club and hit with anybody who was around.
“I used to play with an 80 year old every year, there was this little match we had at the club. I’d play with ladies doubles and juniors,” Draxl said. “I’d just be all over the place and I think that was a really cool way of doing it, hopping in lessons left and right. I got such a mixture and experience of all different ages and levels of tennis.”
Draxl was named the ITA National Player of the Year in 2021 and finished his time in Lexington, Kentucky as a three-time ITA All-American. In June, he decided to forego his final year of eligibility and turn pro. He instantly found success on the ITF World Tennis Tour, where he’s won 14 of his past 15 matches. Draxl now looks to build upon his momentum at this week’s ATP Challenger Tour event in Calgary, Canada, just his second tournament at that level this season.
Draxl is not the only former University of Kentucky star competing in Calgary. Gabriel Diallo, Alafia Ayeni and Enzo Wallart are also among the field. Diallo, who turned pro this past December is a two-time ATP Challenger Tour champion and is the World No. 133 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. The 6’8” Montreal native is somebody that Draxl looks up to, literally and figuratively.
“I’ve known Gab since under 12s, playing all those Canadian tournaments and we ended up going to the same school mostly playing on the court right beside him at number one and two,” Draxl said. “I’ve had so many great memories with Gab.
“When he exploded and won the Granby Challenger last year, it was crazy. We all knew he was really good and talented, but for him to pop out and win a Challenger like that, it was crazy and he’s still doing very well. It’s good for me to know that I was practising with him throughout our college years and I know I’m close to his level or so, so it gives me belief that I can have Challenger success as well.”
Under the tutelage of head coach Cedric Kauffmann at Kentucky, Draxl helped the Wildcats claim their first SEC title since 1992. Draxl is one of 21 players to benefit from the all-new ATP/ITA Accelerator Programme, which aims to increase the development pathway for top players in the American Collegiate system.
Liam Draxl was a three-time ITA All-American at the University of Kentucky. Credit: UK Athletics
“Liam [was] our captain for a few years. He [was] here for four years, he was ranked number one in college, player of the year,” Kaufmann said. “He's a rock, he's a leader. He's a fighter. I consider him a little bit like Lleyton Hewitt. That's his style. He likes to compete.”
After finishing 11th in the 2022-’23 Intercollegiate Tennis Association Rankings, Draxl will receive up to eight qualifying spots at select ATP Challenger Tour events in the next year, thanks to the Accelerator Programme. The goal of the programme is to become a launching pad for the top players within the American collegiate system and accelerate their journey to the pro level.
“I think the partnership that we have now with college and those Accelerator spots are wonderful,” Kaufmann said. “I think those guys can speed up the process to get up the rankings. They're good enough to do it on their own, but I think it creates a little bit faster path for them.”