The three-time Wimbledon main-draw doubles player, who announced his retirement from professional tennis last week, has switched codes as he enters the next phase of his career and now is eager to aid further growth in a sport that is making a name for itself across Europe.
Two padel courts were opened at St Clement Golf and Sports Centre in 2015 but a spike in interest over the last 18 months has resulted in the facility not being able to keep up with demand.
The Island’s padel league now attracts approximately 250 players to the site each week – a figure Clayton believes could soon triple.
Stage one of the Government of Jersey’s Fiscal Stimulus Fund included an allocation of £425,350 to improve padel facilities in St Clement, with three indoor courts and floodlights now set to be installed.
‘The government’s fiscal grant is amazing for the sport and it gives us the licence to grow it in the way we want it do,’ said Clayton, who reached a career-high of 107 on the world ATP doubles rankings.
‘We’ll have the second-largest facility in Great Britain and I’m now going to be able to give something back to the community of Jersey, which has given me so much.
‘Padel is a very exciting sport and we’re going to have an amazing facility, with three indoor and two outdoor courts. There will be a canopy with sides you can bring down, so it will be indoor with an outdoor feel.
‘In the last five years padel has grown across Europe. The LTA [Lawn Tennis Association] is now taking it on for Britain and we want to provide a facility, a programme and an environment that is accessible for everyone. We want everyone to be able to feel like they can play the sport.’
Clayton has previously trained alongside Andy Murray and is a good friend of the former world number one’s brother, Jamie. He admits that those contacts could come in handy.
‘We have been speaking to certain people about bringing tournaments and top players over here,’ Clayton explained. ‘I have a lot of friends on the tennis side but I have been speaking to padel players, including a few Spaniards who can play the game to a very high level, and some very good squash players as well.
‘You need three indoor courts to be able to hold bigger events. When I was a junior we used to have a fantastic tennis tournament at Les Ormes yearly. That drove fantastic interest and growth within the sport but since we lost that tournament it has been tougher. If we can bring those kind of tournaments to padel, with some of the best players coming to Jersey, it will be huge. Hopefully we can develop that and also implement a good schools programme. And something else that is close to our team’s heart is a “padel for all” scheme, where people who can’t afford to play sport can access it.
‘Padel caters for everyone. It’s easier for kids to pick up because of the smaller racket and it’s good for co-ordination. And for older people, it’s less intense on the body. It’s a smaller court, it’s a doubles game and the ball is less pressurised.
‘It is a relatively new thing and we’re looking forward to marketing it as best we can so that people want to come and play and have fun. That’s a big thing at the moment, especially after all we’ve been through with the pandemic, and it’s a doubles game, so it’s very social.’