The Jerseyman, who reached a career high of 107 on the global ATP doubles rankings, has made a permanent move back to the Island after spending 16 years pursuing – and achieving – his dreams on an international stage.
Clayton (27) will now lead a promising padel initiative at St Clement’s Recreation Grounds – backed by a £425,000 Government of Jersey grant to improve facilities for a sport which is gathering momentum.
Island Padel is one of four clubs and organisations handed financial support through the first stage of the government’s Fiscal Stimulus Fund – on top of successful bids by the Infrastructure Department to improve Springfield and Oakfield.
‘I came back to Jersey on 5 March last year, having just reached a Challenger Tour semi-final in Canada, and I had no intentions of stopping playing,’ said Clayton, who made three main-draw appearances at Wimbledon from 2017-2019. ‘But if I’m honest the last couple of years had been a struggle, with the travelling element of it.
‘I was away for 35-40 weeks a year and that was starting to take a toll mentally. I was still enjoying what I was doing – the competing side of it – but the lifestyle was becoming tougher and tougher.
‘Being back home through the pandemic there was a realisation that I wasn’t missing it loads. I was missing competing but I definitely wasn’t missing living out of a suitcase. Then my fiancée moved to the Island in July, Wimbledon got cancelled, and when the tour started again it was quite difficult to get to places. The lifestyle is tough at the best of times but to have regular Covid tests and have to be in a bubble where you could only be in your hotel room or on the court – it wasn’t going to bring me any enjoyment.
‘The final nail in the coffin for my career, so to speak, was this opportunity with padel in St Clement and that really excited me. And with it now having a government fiscal grant, it gives us the license to grow it the way we want to. It will be amazing for the sport and we’ll soon have the second-largest facility in Britain.’
Discussing his career highlights, the former De La Salle student, who moved to Millfield School at the age of 11, said: ‘Wimbledon is what you work towards your whole life as a tennis player and to be the first Jersey person to play there was a nice thing.
‘I played at Wimbledon three times, I won matches there and my last match there was an amazing experience – I played against Venus Williams in the mixed doubles on a Friday night on a fantastic court, with a great atmosphere. Those kind of memories I’m obviously going to remember but even going to the back end of nowhere, playing in places like Mombasa in Kenya – they were massive life experiences too. Looking back at it all it was worth it.
‘Do I think I could have done better? Yeah, I do, but I’m sure most sportsmen would say the same. Ultimately I had fun and I gave it my best shot. Am I happy with my career? Of course.’
Clayton expressed particular praise for his career sponsors, Rathbones, and his family for the ‘sacrifices’ made to help him achieve his tennis goals.