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.

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.

No. 2 baby for Murray, as hip improves

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WIMBLEDON – The rumour was true, as it turns out.

Andy Murray and wife Kim are expecting their second child.

“We’re both obviously very happy and looking forward to it,” Murray said during a press conference Sunday. 

Murray said they’d known for awhile and the family knew as well, although he didn’t want to get into specific dates.

In the grand scheme of things, though, the biggest news topic is the state of the defending champion’s hip.

Murray skipped a pair of planned exhibition practice matches at the Boodles, although he has been practicing all week with some younger players, including 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov and 16-year-old Aidan McHugh, the second-ranked junior player in Great Britain.

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16-year-old Aidan McHugh is getting his 15 minutes of fame after practicing with Andy Murray several times this week. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Murray not too hip this week

What’s the matter with the hip, specifically?

“I’ve had hip problems since I was very young. You know, it’s not something new to me. It’s just been very sore the last few weeks. It was giving me quite a lot of trouble moving to certain shots and getting into certain positions. So that was why I needed to take the break, to try and give it a chance to settle down, calm down a bit,” Murray said. “It’s felt much better the last few days.”

Murray said he’d not been in this position too often, of having a physical concern just a few days before a Grand Slam.

It’s always risky to jump to conclusions, but as bloomy as Mrs. Murray looked at Queen’s two weeks ago, it wasn’t tough to surmise the big news.

“Obviously this is an extremely important tournament, so you worry a little bit. It’s a little bit stressful if you can’t practice for a few days, you really want to be preparing, you know, training as much as you can to get ready and make you feel better – especially when you hadn’t had any matches,” he said.

“Just tried to think positively. I tried to make the best decisions along with my team to give myself the best chance to feel good on Monday. I feel like I’ve done that.”

The Brit admitted he’s human. Being the one to essentially kick off Wimbledon, on the first Monday, at 1 p.m., when he walks on court as the defending men’s champion, does add a few nerves.

But he’s been in this position before, so he figures he’ll be able to handle those.

As for the baby, if you caught a glimpse of Murray’s wife Kim Sears at the Queen’s Club event two weeks ago, it wasn’t hard to put two and two together. She was, as they say, blooming.

Two Saturday sessions

Here’s how Murray looked on the practice court, in two sessions Saturday.

As he was walking up from his court at Aorangi Park after the first one, he definitely looked to be a little limpy. But since a lot of players look like they’re walking on hot coals when they’re off the court, or between points – and suddenly, when they’re chasing the ball, run like the wind – you wouldn’t read too much into it.

Bubbly Bublik makes Wimbledon debut

As for his first-round opponent, lucky lower Alexander Bublik of Ukraine, Murray will have to feel it as he goes, watch some video to try to make some sense of the 20-year-old whimsical, improvisational game. But he has talk to some people about him.

“He’s obviously a big personality. You know, he’s not a quiet guy. Yeah, from what I’ve heard, he’s pretty entertaining on the court in terms of the way he plays, how he is. You know, quite unorthodox. He plays a lot of unexpected shots, a lot of drop shots, mixes his game up a lot, takes chances, tries some more sort of shots that guys may play in exhibitions, he tries when he’s out there. That’s what I’ve heard,” Murray said.  

When you hit a tweener in the third-set tiebreak of a second-round qualifying match, with only Stefano Napolitano between you and a French Open main draw if you win, you’re loose.

Tennis.Life ran into Bublik along St. Mary’s Walk, after his session with a pack of reporters in a small interview room. You can see a glimpse of that in his GoPro video above.

I asked him if he’d ever talked to that many reporters at once. He laughed and said no, and added they’d probably be there after his match as well.

He didn’t say it, but if he loses, that session is probably going to be a lot less enjoyable. Then again, this kid seems to be enjoying all of it.

Then, unprompted, Bublik asked: “Do you think I can win ?”

My answer, “If you don’t think you can, don’t get on the court at all.”

He stood there, pondered that, nodded, and walked away.

From Russia, to Kazakhstan … to the AELTC

Bublik was born and raised just south of St. Petersburg Russia. But he is now playing for Kazakhstan. He will walk out into the game’s most famous cathedral on Monday promptly at 1 p.m., with the defending champion. 

It will be his first Wimbledon, after his first qualifying effort. And it’s only his second Grand Slam tournament after he qualified in Australia this year, and upset Lucas Pouille of France in the first round.

The crowd will be holding its collective breath (it does that a lot, with British players), hoping Murray’s hip is as fine as he says it is. 

It will be fascinating to see how a kid who is already developing a reputation for being loose as a goose on court, never appearing to take it too seriously, will react to one of the most elegant moments in tennis.

Brit Evans announces positive cocaine test (updated)

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When Dan Evans, the No. 50 player on the ATP Tour and the No. 3 Brit behind Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund, announced a press conference for Friday afternoon, the first thought was that he was pulling out of Wimbledon.

That’s not normally grist for a full press conference. But a week before the big event, in London, it made sense. He had already pulled out of Queen’s Club this week and next week’s tournament in Eastbourne, allegedly due to injury.

But Evans had far bigger news to announce. 

He was found positive for cocaine during an anti-doping test back in April, at the Barcelona ATP Tour event.

He read from a statement at the Novotel Hammersmith, a hotel near where the Queen’s Club tournament is going on this week (via the Daily Mail)

‘This is a very difficult day for me and I wanted to come here in person and tell you face-to-face I was notified a few days ago that I failed a drugs test in April, where I tested positive for cocaine.

“It is really important that you know this was taken out of competition and the context completely unrelated to tennis. I made a mistake and I must face up to it. And I do not condone for one second to anyone that this was acceptable behaviour. I have let a lot of people down – my family, my coach, my team, sponsors, British tennis and my fans.

“I can only deeply apologize from the bottom of my heart. It is a sad and humbling experience. I hope you understand I will not be taking any questions and I thank you for your support of my career to date.”

Here is the statement from the ITF:

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So Evans is only suspended as of Monday – which may well have been when the ITF planned to announce it. But, like Maria Sharapova before him, the Brit decided to get ahead of the curve and announce it himself.

Evans is only the second well-known player to test positive for cocaine and get the book thrown at him. He follows in the infamous tracks of Martina Hingis, the former No. 1 who, a year into a comeback as a singles player in 2007, also announced a positive test for a small amount of the illegal substance. The test occurred, as it happened, during Wimbledon. She was issued a two-year ban.

That seems to be the standard time frame. So it’s likely what Evans is looking at.

France’s Richard Gasquet failed a test for cocaine in 2009. But he was able to convince the independent tribunal of the “unique circumstances” (it’s a good story) and ended up being suspended just 2 1/2 months.

Hingis insisted she was innocent.

“I have tested positive but I have never taken drugs and I feel 100 per cent innocent. The reason I have come out with this is because I do not want to have a fight with anti-doping authorities,” she said at the time. “Because of my age and my health problems I have also decided to retire from professional tennis. … I have no desire to spend the next seven years fighting doping officials. I’m frustrated and angry. Accusations such as these don’t provide me with the motivation to continue.”

Hingis, of course, returned and later became No. 1 in doubles.

Evans did not deny it. And he does have some history

Early patterns changed – until …

Nearly a decade ago, he and fellow Brit Daniel Smethurst were caught out partying at a club at 3 a.m., the night (morning?) before their junior doubles match at Wimbledon. The censure wasn’t all that serious – a four-month suspension of his funding from the British Lawn Tennis Association. Although that was a record. It probably wasn’t the smartest move to hang at a club in the centre of Wimbledon village – where the population of tennis people swells to gigantic proportions during the Championships, and where he was sure to be seen by someone.

Then again, Evans made plenty of bonehead moves in his youth. But after years of seeming not to take his tennis seriously enough, he has come on and reached a career best singles ranking of No. 41 back in March.

The 27-year-old reached the fourth round at the Australian Open after reaching the final of the Sydney tuneup event the week before. Since then, he has won more than one match at an ATP Tour-level event only once.

Ironically, that came in Barcelona, where he failed the doping test.

Andy Murray offers some perspective

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Andy Murray took a break during practice at Queen’s Club to thank the fans for their support, and point out that during some tough times in Great Britain, there’s a big world out there beyond the fuzzy yellow ball.

“It’s important to remind yourself of that sometimes,” he said. 

“We sometimes live in our own little bubble where we think just about how well we’re playing, how the practices are going. But there are obviously many things that are a lot more important than just our tennis.”