Brit ranked No. 772 wins at Wim­ble­don

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTING GREEN -

LONDON — Mar­cus Wil­lis orig­i­nally was sched­uled to spend Mon­day teach­ing ten­nis to a group of 5-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.

And on Wed­nes­day, 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.”

Quite sur­real, to choose the pitch-per­fect word Wil­lis used more than once to de­scribe the se­ries of events that brought him to this point. 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 had not played a tour-level match un­til Mon­day.

His 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 vic­tory over 54th-ranked Ri­car­das Ber­ankis be­fore a wildly sup­port­ive and singing crowd of fel­low Brits at tiny Court 17 was by far the most in­trigu­ing de­vel­op­ment on Day 1 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 U.S. 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 back prob­lem.

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.’ ”

Clive Brun­skill / Getty Im­ages

Mar­cus Wil­lis cel­e­brates his win over Ri­car­das Ber­ankis.

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