Jay Clarke: “You don’t rise to your best, you sink to your worst”

Jay Clarke, currently ranked World No.313, speaks about his tennis journey, facing racism, the impact of Andy Murray on British tennis and more.

Published : Feb 13, 2023 20:35 IST , CHENNAI

FILE PHOTO - British tennis player Jay Clarke
FILE PHOTO - British tennis player Jay Clarke | Photo Credit: Getty Images

FILE PHOTO - British tennis player Jay Clarke | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Jay Clarke will look to bring his career back on track when he begins his campaign at the Chennai Open, an ATP Challenger Tour event, facing India No.1 Prajnesh Gunneswaran in the first round on Tuesday.

The former No.1 ranked British junior, who has won three Challenger and four ITF titles on the senior circuit, had a terrible 2022 season post the US Open. He lost all six matches he could play while never fully recovering from injuries.

In a chat with Sportstar, the 24-year-old right-hander from Derby, currently ranked World No.313, spoke about his tennis journey, facing racism, the impact of Andy Murray on British tennis and more.

Q: What’s the story behind your nickname - ‘100 percent’?

A: It started in 2017 at Davis Cup. It was my first time representing Great Britain. It was a funny chat, and based on that, the team started calling me ‘100 percent’. Someone told the ATP, and it made it to my profile. But it’s a good name to have. I always give 100 percent, and I’m happy that other people think about me that way.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your tennis journey.

A: My sister (Yasmin) played before I did, and she started playing the week I was born. We live close to a very small tennis club - Central United Reformed Church in Derby, which is maybe 30 metres from our house. They had table tennis, cricket and tennis. It was very cheap, maybe a one or two-pound membership for the year, and I didn’t grow up very wealthy. It was where I could play for hours with my family. When I was little, it was never a dream of mine to play Wimbledon. It was to have fun with my family.

Q: You have trained with three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray, who played unbelievably well at the recent Australian Open. What does it mean for British tennis to have someone like Murray?

A: It’s amazing what Andy has done for British tennis. He has given us all the belief that it is possible, and he’s such a nice guy. He helped me when I was a lot younger and took me to Paris with him for one year (in 2017) to prepare. I had just started playing Futures and was able to practice on Philippe-Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen, these really big courts with him. I think he went on to make the final that year (Murray reached the French Open final in 2016, where he lost to Novak Djokovic). Just being around guys like that is amazing.

Q: Your career-high ranking is 153, but currently, you’re outside the top 300. What went wrong? Injuries or just a dip in form?

A: There were a few things that happened at the end of last year, a few injuries. I’ve always been able to reach around 150 every year since I started playing the 2017 challengers, and this is the first time it dropped. The second half of last year was tough as I was injured. I think I only played maybe six matches. Different things kept popping up. I had to keep postponing (my return), and then I would come back too soon. It was just a lot of things that I never had before, but when you push your body day in, day out for so many years, it’s bound to happen sooner or later.

READ: The youngest of Italy’s golden gen, Luca Nardi, aims to emulate Berrettini, Sinner’s success

Q: How tough is the grind on the Challenger circuit, and what do you need to do to move on to the ATP Tour level?

A: It’s just consistency. There’s a reason those guys are there (on the ATP Tour). I’ve had top 100, and top 50 wins, and my best level is inside the top 100,  but it’s about playing more days a week. If my best level is top 50 and my worst level is top 400, it puts me at 200. It’s about increasing your worst level because I believe that you don’t rise to your best, you sink to your worst. I just need to get better and work a bit smarter to bridge the gap between my everyday and best level.

Q: In an interview with BBC in 2017, you said that you used to receive 15 to 20 racially abusive messages a month on social media.

A: It’s just very shallow and narrow-minded people that go to that after matches. People that lose money, you know. I’ve had it throughout my life, not just in tennis and walking down the street. 2018 was the time when I used my platform for it, and since then, I’ve been able to make changes to my social media. I don’t receive messages anymore or comments from people that I don’t follow, and it’s just a better way. It’s tough because I do like interacting with fans and people that I come in contact with, but it’s just about protecting your own mental health. I don’t need to be associated with the people who would say these kinds of things not only to me but to anyone else. I just tried to distance myself from it now.

Q: One of your sporting idols - LeBron James - recently broke the all-time NBA scoring record. Did you get the chance to watch that?

A: Those records almost seem impossible to be broken. Like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, all these guys are doing in tennis...I don’t think Sampras thought in his lifetime that he’d be overtaken, and then Federer did it, followed by Rafa and Novak. It is just an amazing generation of sports, not just in tennis, but basketball and football with Ronaldo and Messi. It is very impressive.

Q: How are you working on your patience, something you have mentioned in your ATP profile as your worst quality?

A: It’s something deep inside. It’s part of my DNA. I’m very conservative in life, not just in tennis. It is always that fight between what you really want to do and what you need to do. It’s gotten better over the last few years and is all about finding the balance because it is such a big part of my game, and I don’t want to erase that.

Jay Clarke
Age: 24
Birthplace: Derby, England
Turned Pro: 2016
Style: Right-handed, Two-Handed Backhand
Current Ranking - 313, Career-high - 153 (July 2019)
Best Grand Slam performance: Second round at Wimbledon 2019
Challenger Titles - Binghamton (2018), Anning (2019), Morelos (2022)
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