Mon | Jul 16, 2018

No 772 is big winner

Published:Tuesday | June 28, 2016 | 12:00 AM


Marcus Willis was originally scheduled to spend yesterday teaching tennis to a group of five to 10-year-old kids, among others, at Warwick Boat Club in central England.

Instead, Willis wound up with grander and more lucrative, plans: playing - and winning! - a match at Wimbledon.

Tomorrow, Willis' students will need to find a substitute yet again because he will be busy at the All England Club, standing across the net from none other than Roger Federer in the second round.

Now there's something to brag about to friends: "The guy who coaches me is playing Federer at Wimbledon."

He is, after all, a 25-year-old with admittedly something of a beer gut who resides with his parents - "Living the dream," Willis joked - makes about $40 an hour for giving tennis lessons when he's not competing at local club tournaments, is ranked 772nd and never had played a tour-level match until yesterday.

His 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over 54th-ranked Ricardo Berankis before a wildly supportive and singing crowd of fellow Brits at tiny Court 17 was by far the most intriguing development on Day One of the grass-court Grand Slam tournament. There were ho-hum straight-set victories for past champions Federer, Novak Djokovic and Venus Williams, for example, and a half-dozen exits by lower-seeded players.




Willis truly made news, becoming the worst-ranked qualifier to reach the second round at any major since No. 923 Jared Palmer at the 1988 US Open.

"One of the best stories in a long time in our sport," said Federer, who beat Guido Pella 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-3 in his return to Grand Slam tennis after missing the French Open with a bad back.

Willis' take on his surprising success: "This doesn't happen, really."

As a teen, Willis appeared to be an up-and-coming junior, reaching the third round of the Wimbledon boys' tournament in 2007 and 2008, but injuries and what he describes as a lack of dedication derailed his career.

"Tore my hamstring twice. Hurt my knee earlier this year. Had a bit of a rough phase. I was down, struggling to get out of bed in the morning," Willis said.

"I was a bit of a loser. I was overweight," he said. "I just looked myself in the mirror (and) said, 'You're better than this'."

He says he was close to abandoning hope of a pro career, considering a move to Philadelphia to teach tennis, when his new girlfriend told him to keep trying to play.

"I met the girl. She told me not to (quit), so I didn't," Willis said with a smile. "Do what I'm told."