Sunday 25 September 2016

'Unknown' Willis weighs in to secure dream Federer date

Daniel Johnson

Published 28/06/2016 | 02:30

England’s Marcus Willis, World No 772, celebrates with friends after his victory over 54th-ranked Ricardas Berankis. Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
England’s Marcus Willis, World No 772, celebrates with friends after his victory over 54th-ranked Ricardas Berankis. Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

The 'mini reds' at Warwick Boat Club will forgive Marcus Willis for missing yesterday's coaching session.

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A self-described "loser" a few years ago, with his dreams in tatters, Willis was busy instead booking his place in the second round of Wimbledon against Roger Federer with one of the unlikeliest victories these Championships have ever known, defeating a player ranked more than 700 places above him.

Forget Leicester City. This was a triumph with few parallels. Willis, ranked 772 in the world, used his extremely unconventional game to post a rather conventional scoreline against Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, confidently winning 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

Perhaps the most unfancied player in recent history at these Championships will face its greatest star almost certainly on its biggest stage, Centre Court, with a minimum of £50,000 for its efforts. The reverberations of the win will be felt for some time, even if Federer is not as bewildered by his style as Berankis was.

Having earned just £258 from tennis this season, the struggling career of Willis could have ended two weeks ago with a coaching job in Philadelphia, his lifetime's ambition to play at the All England Club unfulfilled.

But after some encouragement from his girlfriend, Jennifer, and a fairytale run through the qualifiers, the 23rd best male tennis player in Britain is the nation's new hero.

Equipment

A dentist by profession, Jennifer only made it to Court 17 after the equipment at her practice broke yesterday morning, allowing her the afternoon off. Perhaps, it was meant to be.

The left-hander showed courage in abundance to see this one out, coupled with an unusual style - and some big serving - to never allow Berankis, ranked 53rd in the world, to find his game. This was made all the more amazing by the fact it was not just Willis's grand slam debut, but it was his debut at Tour level.

All this has contributed to his rather unusual arrangements for the week.

He is checking out of his hotel every morning, and was not even sure he had a room when he left here shell-shocked and star-struck, having met his hero, Goran Ivanisevic, last night. All he knew was he was headed for the same meal he has been having for the last few nights. "Tomato and pepper pasta with added chicken," he revealed.

Reflecting on the more serious matter of his failure to turn a promising junior career into much more, Willis said: "I was a bit of a loser. Overweight, seeing off a few pints. I looked in the mirror and thought, 'You're better than this'.

"I've always wanted to play at Wimbledon. I just never thought it would happen. Two, three, four years ago, it was looking very unlikely. Now I'm here. I'm going to enjoy every minute and try and do it on a regular basis. Keep it rolling."

On playing Federer, he quipped: "I'm not sure he can play on grass. That's good. It's an amazing dream come true. I get to play on a stadium court. This is what I dreamed of when I was younger. I'm going to go out there and try to win the tennis match. I probably won't. I might not. But I'm going to give everything, as I have the last seven matches."

The occasion for the 25-year-old from Wokingham was as remarkable as the result. He revelled in the atmosphere on a packed Court 17. "If you love Willie, take your shoes off" was one of the more bizarre chants. He duly obliged, bounding with energy.

Meanwhile, compatriot James Ward had little joy as he suffered a 6-0 7-6(3) 6-4 defeat to Novak Djokovic.

Ward, who had not won a tour level match of any kind since making the third round here 12 months ago, then went on a roll to level the set at 3-3.

He also had three chances to break his more illustrious opponent in the 11th game of the second set but it was not long before Djokovic snapped back into his 'super-human' persona and ushered the son of a London black cab driver out of Wimbledon.

Djokovic will next meet Adrian Mannarino. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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