#NextGenATP First-Time Winner: Jay Clarke
This week, the ATP Challenger Tour event in Binghamton, New York, celebrated its 25th anniversary. Needless to say, it was a memorable tournament for all involved. A total of 20 singles matches were completed on Thursday after torrential rain showers washed out play for two straight days. But when the skies cleared, fans were treated to a world-class display.
On Sunday, Jay Clarke defeated Jordan Thompson 6-7(6), 7-6(5), 6-4 for his maiden title, capturing a dramatic, high-quality two-hour and 56-minute marathon final. Thompson was two points from the championship – both on his racquet – at 5/4 in the second set tie-break, but Clarke escaped in thrilling fashion. He would eventually secure the title on his third match point, in what was the longest Challenger final since 2016.
Clarke, who turned 20 during the week, is Great Britain’s #NextGenATP hopeful. The Derby native is up to a career-high No. 175 in the ATP Rankings with the victory, rising 50 spots. He joins Kyle Edmund and Cameron Norrie, who ironically also recently triumphed in Binghamton (Edmund in 2015 and Norrie in 2017), as Brits in the Top 200. Andy Murray also lifted the trophy in 2005.
Clarke spoke to broadcaster Mike Cation following his breakthrough victory…
Jay, this was a bizarre week with all the rain delays, but this has to feel incredibly special for you right now.
It feels great. I came here after being away from hard courts for a while and I beat great players throughout the whole week. I did well in the mixed doubles at Wimbledon, so I didn’t have much preparation on hard. The fact that I could string five wins together in tough conditions makes me really happy.
Andy Murray won this tournament in 2005, Kyle Edmund a few years ago and Cameron Norrie last year. What is it about being able to translate the opportunities in the grass season to Binghamton?
I think British players are quite lucky to have the opportunities on the grass, and I know Cam and I played main draw Wimbledon and Eastbourne leading into Binghamton. You’re playing top-level players. I lost to Ernests Gulbis in a tight five-setter, so I had the feeling that I was playing really well. When you play those guys and then you come here, it gives you some confidence.
The two guys you played in the semis and final – Granollers and Thompson – are Top 100 guys. Your win against Granollers was complete, top to bottom. How did you process that coming into today’s final?
Well, I was completely focused on the match today. I came back from a set down on my birthday earlier in the week, so the fact that I bounced back and stayed level-headed is just my personality.
I just focused on holding my serve and yesterday I think I played the big points really well. That’s what tennis is. Today, I had opportunities in the first set tie-break and didn’t take them. But I was lucky today and able to find some of my best tennis when it counted.
You’re saying ‘lucky’, but that was all skill and talent today.
Obviously the first time you do something, you have to have a bit of luck on your side. When I played Marcos Giron in the second round, I got a net cord to get a double break. In that game, the wind picked up and it could have been very different. I managed to make it scrappy and I enjoyed playing that tennis. A lot of things went my way this week.
It’s always tough when you play a solid set and lose it, like you did today in the first. And then to have your back against the wall in the second set tie-break. How did you bounce back mentally?
You always try to see the bigger picture in the moment. Before this week I was outside the Top 200 and now I’m taking this guy, who is No. 96 in the world, to 6-all with a set point in the first. I was creating these chances against guys who are much higher ranked than me. I think he’s won five or six titles before, so it helps a lot knowing that you’re not going to take every chance you get. You’re going to miss. Going into the match, it’s important to know that.
You’re not entitled to anything. When he hit a backhand down-the-line winner, I was just thinking that it’s too good. It would have been easy for me to drop my head and think crazy stuff at the start of the second, but I’m really happy with how I managed these situations all week.
2018 #NextGenATP First-Time Winners:Molleker | Polmans | Hurkacz | Rodionov | De Minaur | Martinez
I can already see a difference in what you’re doing from the clay season. It seems like you’re running around the backhand less and trusting that side more. Is that accurate?
I can’t give away too much [laughs]. On clay you obviously have more time to run around, but the guys are going to find the backhand eventually in faster conditions like this. You have to back yourself. Few guys have a weakness when you get to the quarter-finals. They might have sides they favour more, but few weaknesses at that stage. You have to break them down until they miss. They’re not going to give much.
I’m just working on believing in my game more. With the matches on the grass, you can’t really run around the backhand so you have to believe more in that wing. I’d say I’m pretty solid from both sides and my technique is pretty clean. There’s not much that can go wrong with my game, so I think that helps a lot.
Today I noticed that you create a lot of depth from a defensive position. It impressed me most and it didn’t allow Thompson to come forward too much and attack.
The stuff you named is actually the stuff I’m working on, so I’m glad you’re picking up on it [laughs]. Against the top guys, if you give them one chance they are going to come in. I knew it was important to hit the ball deep today and keep him back, because he’s a very good player when he’s inside the court. Not staying defensive for too long was key. Not just today, but the whole week.
You have to be 50-50 here. On the clay, I can sit back and let them attack me 60-70 per cent of the time, because I’m quite happy moving. On the hard courts, you drop back once or twice and the ball is past you. You have to try to turn the points early in the rallies and that’s what I’ve been doing.
You had your birthday here this week, but you didn’t get to properly celebrate. You also have to get to Lexington now. How do you celebrate your birthday and your first trophy?
My brother is coming out in a couple weeks, so maybe we’ll do something then. It’s a good problem to have. I’ve enjoyed this week and I never usually do something for my birthday anyway. I’m always on the road traveling. I’m just enjoying this.