Brit ranked No. 772 wins at Wimbledon
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.’ ”
Marcus Willis celebrates his win over Ricardas Berankis.