What’s next for … Willis and Clarke?

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British journeyman Marcus Willis had a Wimbledon moment for a lifetime in 2016.

He got through a pre-qualifying event, the qualifying tournament at Roehampton, and won a first-round match in the main singles draw.

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He then got to face Roger Federer on Centre Court.

It was an exposure opportunity he exploited a little bit. But the now 26-year-old came back to Wimbledon in 2017 only slightly ahead of where he had been when he left it a year before.

Ranked just inside the top 400, Willis had played little. He got married, had a baby, and probably skipped a few gym sessions.

Willis seemed poised to repeat his main draw appearance, after getting through his first two qualifying rounds in singles at Roehampton. But he came up with a bum knee in the final round against Illya Marchenko, and that was that.

A shot in doubles

He already had secured a wild card for the Wimbledon main draw in doubles, with 18-year-old Jay Clarke. Clarke, ranked No. 15 in the ITF junior rankings a year ago on the strength of excellent doubles results, had a heartbreaker in the final round of the singles qualifying.

Up two sets to none against Austrian Sebastian Ofner, he fell in five. Ofner ended up beating Jack Sock in the main draw and losing to Alexander Zverev in the third round.

Here were the two after their losses, downcast in defeat as they talked to the British media.

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It turned out, these two – who basically come from different tennis generations – had a shining moment to come.

Willis and Clarke – underdogs

The pickup team came back from two sets to none down to defeat Jared Donaldson and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan 6-3 in the fifth.

The best moments? Their pure joy from their parents, Cathy and James Willis ((a grade-school teacher and accountant), and Earol Clarke (a retired social worker) and his wife, a teaching assistant. Just the most regular folks you could find. According to this story, the Clarkes don’t even own a car and had to battle to try to get support for the promising youngest son’s training.

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The parents wouldn’t even have known each other before this week. There was hugging and kissing and grins as wide as the English Channel. They even joined the players’ post-victory press conference.

Willis and Clarke upset the No. 2 seeds and defending champions Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hughes Herbert, 6-3 in the fifth set. They fell to eventual finalists Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic in the third round.

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What’s next for Willis and Clarke?

Willis’ doubles ranking jumped from No. 708 to No. 256, which will help him get into tournaments. Clarke’s doubles ranking jumped from No. 882 to No. 283.

The singles picture is a little muddier, especially for Willis.

Clarke’s singles ranking moved up 39 spots, to a career-high No. 329. But Willis’s singles ranking dropped 152 spots to No. 532, because of the loss of those points earned in winning a round in the main draw a year ago.

That will get you into lowly Futures events. But not much more than that.

Clarke went right from the dizzying moments at Wimbledon to a lowly Futures event in Gubbio, Italy. He went from grass to read clay.

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Jay Clarke went straight from the grass to the red clay at a low-level Futures in Italy this week. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

 

Clarke is the No. 1 seed, and one of only five non-Italians in the 32-player draw. Two wins later, he’s in the quarterfinals. He and his older brother Curtis lost in the first round of the doubles.

Willis? He had been entered in a pair of $25,000 Futures events in Ireland this week, and next week. But he withdrew from both of them the day of the final round of qualifying in Roehampton.

Instead, he’s a substitute on the New York Empire World Team Tennis squad.

No doubt he’s trying to get his knee right, after running on adrenaline during the Wimbledon doubles. He’s also arguing with people on Twitter. 🙂

There’s a series of three $15,000 Futures events in Great Britain in September. Despite the highs of his Wimbledon efforts the last two years, he’ll have to start all over again.

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