BENGALURU: Jay Clarke. Does that name ring any bells? Perhaps not. But add Andy Murray to the equation, and there will be a plenty of interest.
While Murray is the former World No 1 and owner of three Grand Slam singles titles and two Olympic gold medals, Clarke is a new kid on the block, as it seems from his ATP rank of 279. It’s anything but. The United Kingdom sees the next Andy Murray in that 19-year-old. No, it’s not an exaggeration if you follow Clark closely.
He might not have won any Challenger or ATP title, but he's been seen as a potential player in the UK. Having already travelled with the Great Britain Davis Cup team, he has been a practice partner of Murray since the French Open this year.
“Before the French Open, Andy (Murray) called me and said he wanted me as his practice partner. I was elated as I never expected that. It’s a great feeling to play with him,” said Clarke.
At just 19, he has had a string of unexpected things coming his way. After failing to qualify for the Wimbledon singles main draw this year, Clarke had a great run in the doubles partnering Marcus Willis. In the Round of 32, the pair knocked out reigning Wimbledon doubles champion Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut before losing in the next round.
“I didn’t play many doubles before that so I didn’t expect that. But I enjoyed the journey because I was upset over my loss in the singles qualifiers. I was up by two sets and then I lost in the five-sets in the final round,” he said.
The next surprise came in form of 'sportsperson of the year' from Derby Telegraph. While Clarke considers it as a great achievement, he also remains humble. Clarke's struggle to build a career is similar to that of a lower-ranked Indian player. He didn’t have a sponsor until February this year and had only been travelling with his coach for the last two years.
“I was struggling to get a sponsor. My father (Earol Clarke) was funding. I think it came at the right time. Now, I can focus on my training and development with ease,” he said.
As it seems, he has already started making a mark. After early elimination from Pune Challenger at the hands of Yuki Bhambri (122), Clarke has had a good run in the Bengaluru Open, a $100,000 Challenger event. He shocked Ramkumar Ramanathan and an experienced Ante Pavic to progress to his very first Challenger semifinal. However, Clarke says, he is still adjusting to the demands of the event.
“It’s a big change but I’m still trying to get accustomed to it. It’s difficult as it’s a lot more physically demanding game and some of them have already been in the top 50. But I’m training hard to improve,” said the Briton. His next big challenge is to qualify for next year's Australian Open.