'I don't remember when I was last in the UK for weeks outside Wimbledon'

  • Posted: Apr 23, 2020

Backyard fitness sessions, hit-ups on a basketball court and Fortnite battles.

Welcome to the lockdown training schedule of tennis player Jay Clarke, as mapped out by his live-in coach.

But that, of course, only happens once the British number five has done the washing up.

The 21-year-old is isolating at home with his family in Derby, including older brother and coach, Curtis.

At a time when most athletes and coaches around the world are barred from interacting in person because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the brothers have a welcome advantage.

In fact, Clarke finds himself with a few coaches on hand to offer words of encouragement.

“For me it’s totally different because I’m here with my brother and I’ve always had a member of the family coach me, my sister and before that my dad,” he told BBC East Midlands Today.

“I know they always want to give me the best advice they can.”

So how does a professional tennis player – someone who faced Roger Federer in the second round of Wimbledon just nine months ago – progress his career from his family home in the East Midlands?

Well, it starts with chores.

“We don’t have a set time to start training each day because I still have to help out around the house – I’m pulling my weight,” he said.

“They keep me grounded through washing pots.”

Housework slots easily in around sessions on the exercise bike, basic fitness and bodyweight workouts under a marquee at the back of the house and even time ‘on court’ with racquet in hand.

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However, that court is a multi-sport asphalt cage where Clarke has to rely on “muscle memory” and imagination to get the ball over the non-existent net.

There the entire time is older brother Curtis, just as he would be almost every week on tour.

The only difference is that they are also sharing days with with mum and dad, rather than with tennis’ elite on grass, clay and hard courts in far-flung places.

“We have spent practically every day together since Jay was born,” said Curtis.

“We go play tennis at the park, come back and play Fortnite together. We enjoy each other’s company much more than people realise.”

In the days before being forced into lockdown, Clarke was on court with double Wimbledon and Olympic champion Andy Murray at the National Tennis Centre in London.

A training block with the three-time Grand Slam-winner and former world number one came just as Clarke was completing his return from a two-month injury lay-off and just days before tennis and almost all sports had their schedules suspended.

“It’s always special training with Andy,” said Clarke. “He is such a nice guy and gives me so much advice when I step on court with him. Obviously there is no better person to be aware of your level against than a guy who was number one in the world, who has won slams and Olympic gold.”

While tennis is on hold and Wimbledon in 2020 has been lost as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Clarke says he is “trying to enjoy” the rare extended stay at home.

“Being a Brit, it is the only time that all my family can come and watch so it is a big hit for us, but I think it is the best for everyone that it doesn’t go ahead,” he said.

“I don’t remember the time that I was in the UK, besides Wimbledon, for four or five weeks straight.

“It’s given me time to spend with my family and my dogs, which I hardly ever see because I travel so much.”

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