Tennis teen bids to upstage Andy Murray

FOREHAND WINNER -- Michael Clarke in action on the court
FOREHAND WINNER -- Michael Clarke in action on the court

FORGET ‘Murray Mania’ and Wimbledon. Hucknall is about to be gripped by ‘Michael Mania’ as a teenager from the town hunts tennis glory at the Special Olympics World Summer Games.

SW19 and big-hitting stars, such as Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal, might be hogging centre stage of the tennis world at the moment.

But for Michael Clarke (18), of Hayden Lane, the focus is purely on his event in Athens, Greece, which starts tomorrow (Saturday).

The talented teen will represent Great Britain at the ten-day sporting spectacular, which is for sportspeople with disabilities and special needs.

Michael was diagnosed with brain damage at birth and has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

But he will be hoping to serve up an ace or two by gunning for gold in Athens in both the men’s singles tournament and the men’s doubles, alongside partner Shaine Lewis, of Glamorgan.

Michael’s dad, Brian, said: “We are so proud of him. He has done incredibly well and loves every minute he is out on court.

“He may even come back as world champion, you never know.”

The Games represent the pinnacle of Michael’s fledgling tennis career. He only picked up a racket for the first time five years ago. And he only started playing seriously after a teaching assistant at his former school, Derrymount, in Arnold, spotted him hitting some balls about and recommended he took it up.

But in his short career, he has already picked up a wealth of medals.

In October 2006, just six months after he started playing, Michael won the gold medal in the beginners’ section of the British Learning Disability Championships, as well as scooping silver in the doubles.

The following October, he moved up a level, to just below elite, but was again a success as he took gold in both singles and doubles at the same tournament.

That propelled him into the second of two elite groups for the 2008 championships when he won bronze in the singles and silver in the doubles.

In May 2008, Michael was one of four players to represent Britain in a tri-nations learning disability tennis tournament in Milan, Italy where he came second overall.

His success continued in 2009 when he represented the East Midlands at the National Special Olympic Games in Leicester, grabbing gold in the singles and silver in the doubles.

After so much success on home soil, the teenager was chosen to represent Britain at the European Special Olympic Games in Warsaw, Poland last September.

Michael said: “The tennis was played on clay, which worried us a bit because none of our team had played on the surface before. We usually play indoors in England.”

But Michael need not have feared because he took silver in the singles, losing out to a player from Monaco 10-8 in the final set. Then he scooped gold in the mixed doubles with partner Zara Jurenko, of Leicester. They didn’t drop a set in the entire tournament.

Michael, who plays at West Bridgford Tennis Club, even got to meet Simply Red front man Mick Hucknall.