In the heat of the afternoon sun, as Jay Clarke is playing on court at the Pune Challenger, a solitary figure sits in the empty stands copiously taking down notes. The sounds of the tennis balls and match officials are periodically broken by cheers of ‘Come on Jay’ and ‘Good point Jay’ from the 21-year-old’s coach.
But what makes this sight unusual on the ATP Challenger circuit is the fact that his coach is a woman, his sister Yasmin Clarke, who is a former player herself. The 29-year-old is one of his coaches, along with brother Curtis, 25, and their father Earol.
At a time when female coaches are not the norm even on the women’s tour, a woman with a bulky kitbag and a coach’s notebook is rare. But for the Clarkes, this is just the way they have played. Their father coached all three siblings on tour before Yasmin – the first tennis player in the family – and Curtis took up the mantle for Jay, the youngest and already the most successful. She has accompanied him throughout his junior career and now takes turns with Curtis as his travelling coach.
“I’ve always only had my family coach me since I started playing. So it’s always weird for me when someone else on the outside comes in and says stuff. Obviously, no one wants better for you than your brother and your sister. Everything they say is really genuine,” Jay told Scroll.in at the Pune Challenger.
For the Derby natives, tennis started as a fun activity at the local club before developing into a family business that has now seen Jay become one of the top-ranked players in Britain.
“Our father was very sporty, he played basketball for Great Britain as a junior, he ran at English school level and we are a big cricket family as well, so sport was just in our blood.
“He encouraged us because we live 100 meters away from a tennis club growing up. We went down there just for fun, our cousins were there as well. So that’s how we all started in that and then it just kind of snowballed into what it is now,” Yasmin recounted.
Yasmin (a career-best rank of 532) and Curtis (career-best 1518) went on to play pro tennis but could not make the cut. She stopped early because of injuries and a bad ACL problem while their brother didn’t make the top 1000. But it was their combined effort that helped Jay breakthrough.
The 21-year-old has a career-best of 153 but is the fifth-highest ranked Brit on the ATP Tour, made his Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon via wildcard and played Roger Federer on Centre Court. He also reached the mixed doubles semi-final with Harriet Dart in 2018 and partnered Coco Gauff in 2019.
The conversation shifts to female coaches and Yasmin admits she would not have been one had the pupil not been her brother.
“I do think women can bring something else to it but at the moment, you’ve got 80-90% of men coaching on the women’s tour too and until that changes, it will be very difficult to change on the other side,” she explained.
The subject of women coaching male players was brought into the limelight by another Brit, when Andy Murray got Amelie Mauresmo on board and later revealed the flak she got because of her gender. The Clarkes have a unique perspective on this.
“I think being brought by his mom Judy, he looks at someone for their content and character rather than are whether they male or female,” said Yasmin.
“Even Lucas Pouille has hired Mauresmo and Conchita Martinez was the captain of Spain’s Davis Cup team. There are a few but very rare,” added Jay.
“But they have won Grand Slams so I guess they got to prove themselves first, the rest of us will just follow,” replied his sister.
The other big upside of having your sister as coach, especially at the end of a hard season, is the small comforts it brings in the lonely grind of second-tier tennis.
“It helps a lot, I never feel like I’m really away from home. So I always have someone there and that I think that’s important especially in the five-six week trips. If it is not going great, it’s very easy to get down on yourself but I always have my brother or my sister with me so it’s very relaxing. I know a lot of players who travel alone or even with a coach, but it is not the same because you don’t have that relationship,” Jay explained.
However, Yasmin – who is with him this week because Curtis is at a training programme in UK – is clear that she would not look at coaching anyone else on tour anytime soon.
“I coach a small club in Derby where I live but probably not on tour… I’m not too fussed about traveling. I think I spent a long time doing it myself. I do like four or five weeks here, I pick the nice weeks. I’ll go to Grand Slams if he makes it there,” she laughed.
Speaking of Slams, one of the highlights of their sport-loving family was Jay playing Federer at Wimbledon this year. The youngster went down in straight sets. But not before pushing the eight-time champion to one tiebreak.
“Being British, Wimbledon was massive. Winning my first match there gave me a lot of belief. It was nice to play Federer in the second round though because sometimes when you get a wildcard, draw him in the first round and get annihilated, you almost feel like you don’t belong. But because I actually got in and was in the second round, I felt that my game was there. I was playing really good tennis on grass so maybe if I didn’t play him, I could have actually gone ahead,” Jay said.
For the Clarke clan, it was a dream come true.
“When Jay was growing up, Federer was in his prime. So it’s one of those things where we always spoke about, when are going to get to play Federer or Nadal and if you don’t get there soon enough, you know, he is going to go. But then playing against him was pretty special,” Yasmin added.