SOUTH Lakeland tennis coach Jon Griffin is predicting a bright future for rising star Sam Clarke, who he believes is destined for the top of the British game.
Griffin – who has trained more than 100 county champions – first started coaching Clarke when his young prodigy was six years old and has worked alongside him for the past decade.
Kirkbie Kendal School student Clarke is ranked in the top 50 in Britain while in Cumbria he is ranked number one at under-16 level and number two at under-18 level.
He recently achieved his finest result to date at the Aegon British Tour event in Stirling when he made the last 24, which according to Griffin is further evidence of Clarke’s burgeoning reputation.
“Sam is one of the very best I have coached and to my mind is looking at the higher echelons of the game in this country,” he said.
“Realistically, he is not going to be the next Andy Murray but he is going to be one of the top athletes to come out of Cumbria in any sport for quite some time.
“He’s always been a very good athlete and we’ve moulded him into a tennis star. He has won all the county titles through the age groups and won lots of tournaments around the North West.
“It is very rewarding for me to see his progress, especially because he is such a nice lad. Getting as far as he did in a British Tour event at the age of 16 was very impressive.
“In all the years of training I can honestly say I have never had to tell him to work harder in a training session.
“He has always given 100% and listened intently and all the top ones I have coached have been like that. Their desire comes from within and that’s what makes them the best.”
Clarke is currently enrolled on the Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence (AASE) scheme at the International High Performance Centre in Bolton.
The AASE is aimed at elite youngsters aged between 16 and 18 and provides a clear pathway for them to become professional tennis players or coaches while maintaining academic studies.
Since September, in addition to his sessions with Griffin, Clarke has travelled to Bolton three times a week which has seen his hours spent on court trebled.
He is also registered with Tennis Smart – an American university placement company for British junior players run by former GB doubles player Sarah Borwell.
The immediate aim for 2014 is participation in several International Tour Federation junior events, although should he land a future American university scholarship, the 16-year-old hopes this will further enhance his development.
“Since I started the sessions in Bolton in September I have seen a fairly big improvement,” said Clarke. “I will be there for another year at least so hopefully I will keep moving forward.
“At the moment I am signed up to the whole American university process in a bid to get a scholarship out there. That would again help progress my career.
“It will then be a case of seeing how far I can get with that behind me.”