Tennis: Leeds star Clay Crawford back from Jamaica in style INTERVIEW

Clay Crawford.
Clay Crawford.
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The sun, sea and sand of lush Jamaica or wet and miserable Britain; it would be a no-brainer for most.

Not for rising Leeds tennis star Clay Crawford who has returned from the tropics to significantly improve his game while training at Bolton.

Bolton Arena’s Lawn Tennis Association High Performance Centre is one of the country’s best and provides the daily training base to both Leeds-born Crawford as well as another of the city’s promising young tennis stars, Horsforth’s Pete Ashley.

The duo now compete together in doubles events but there was little chance of that in 2010 or 2009 with Crawford competing in ITF junior tour events State-side whilst operating from his somewhat idyllic temporary home of Jamaica.

The Caribbean island’s Mandeville region is home to Crawford’s grandparents Robert and Barbara and provided the perfect base for teenage star Crawford to test his mettle against American tennis hopefuls of similar age.

But after two years of success, Crawford decided that of the “luxury life” enough was enough – the Leeds ace targeting further progression given the expertise training at Bolton and proof of that progression coming with his runners-up berth in the recent national under-16s championships.

Crawford told LS1: “My grandparents live in Jamaica and I thought it would be good going out there with there being lots of international tournaments in America.

“I used that as like a training base and then competed in events in the ITF.

“It was a really good experience, a really good challenge and during that time I learnt a lot.

“I started off playing really well in the ITF and got to a couple of quarters and semis as well.

“But towards the back end when I was 15 I just tired a bit and I wasn’t really getting pushed that much over there.

“That’s why I took the decision to come back training here and I’ve not been doing too bad so it’s good.”

This year’s success has completely vindicated Crawford’s decision to return to Britain with the 16-year-old finishing runner-up in August’s AEGON under-16s Britain Junior Nationals in Bournemouth.

Crawford was eventually downed by number one seed Josh Page but the Leeds ace enjoyed a storming first set, recording a 6-1 verdict.

And, while Crawford ultimately had to settle for silver, it capped a fine week for the East End Park-based star who was also a beaten finalist in the boy’s doubles alongside fellow Leeds star Ashley.

The youngster is now back at his East End Park home living with his mum, dad and younger brother and sister and was delighted with his performance in the Bournemouth nationals.

“I had a good week,” said Crawford, who plays golf in what little spare time he has. This is the first year of playing nationals for me because I have been away and I felt as though I played well all week.

“I had a good tournament and I got to the finals of the doubles as well.”

Next up are international ITF tournaments in Malaysia and Thailand and it is of regular jaunts abroad on the professional men’s tour that Crawford ultimately dreams of.

“I’d just like to make it pro and to get like a top 50 ranking on the ATP tour,” he said.

“If I could do that, that would be great and that’s the plan.”

So far the plan is working just fine but sacrifices have been made for the youngster’s tennis progression with Crawford leaving Roundhay High School in year eight to concentrate full time on his chosen sport.

It was at Bracken Edge Primary School where the then seven-year-old was first introduced to the sport after a visit from tennis coaches and for Crawford and tennis it was love at first sight though the teenager still hopes to pursue his GCSEs at a later date.

“I was at Roundhay High School but I left half way through year eight,” said Crawford.

“But I was actually quite excited about leaving and just to go away and see what levels people’s tennis was at abroad. I want to play tennis full time so it’s pretty good that way but I hope I can still do my GCSEs next year.”

It is, though, of a long-term tennis future that Crawford is planning for and his dedication for the sport cannot be doubted with the Leeds star now back in the UK and making 10 train rides a week to Bolton.

Life was somewhat less stressful in the Caribbean – Crawford admitting he is a huge fan of Jamaica and not to mention its weather but it is here in Britain where he now plans to succeed.

“I’d been to holidays to Jamaica before with my parents and it’s a nice island, really nice,” he said.

“But while the weather is a lot better over there than over here I think the training and that is much better over here.

“I’d much rather have that and there are more important things than the weather.”

* The AEGON British Junior National Championships has seen past champions including the current men’s and women’s British number 1, Andy Murray and Elena Baltacha. The number of junior players who compete more than six times a year has increased from 8,400 in 2007 to more than 50,000 this year – a 495 per cent increase in four years.

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