The Bomb has absolute blast
SW19’S unlikely new hero Marcus Willis revealed last night he was a “loser” who turned his tennis life around before setting up his dream showdown with Roger Federer.
The 25-year-old, who barely qualifies as a journeyman with a ranking of 772 in the world, saw off Ricardas Berankis in straight sets to send Court 17 into delirium.
There seemed as much chance of Bob Willis or Wincey Willis triumphing when he was drawn against an opponent ranked 718 places above him but Marcus Willis is clearly not a man who cares much for odds.
Willis had already defied them by coming through six rounds of qualifying just to make the main draw, having redoubled his efforts to make it in the sport after a moment of clarity three years ago.
“When I was a junior I was talented, I was bigged up a lot, then I got dropped in the real world,” he said.
“I made some bad decisions, went out too much and my lifestyle wasn’t good. I was a bit of a loser. I was overweight. I was drinking off pints. I didn’t have the drive. “I found it three years ago. just looked myself in the mirror and I said: ‘You’re better than this.’ And I worked hard.”
It is not easy to fund a career on fresh air, though, and Willis had this year resigned himself to a life of coaching as the bills mounted up from a backpack existence on the outer edges of the tennis solar system.
Financially, he would have been better off putting a hat down in Wimbledon Village and playing a mouth organ than playing the minor tours.
He was all set to start a job in Philadelphia when he met his girlfriend Jennifer, right, at an Ellie Goulding concert. She talked him into giving a life in professional tennis one last shot and he was talked round.
“I think that was a decent decision,” he acknowledged, after celebrating euphorically in the corner of cosy Court 17 with old university mates from Loughborough.
Willis had walked out for his Wimbledon debut wearing a broad grin as if he could not quite believe he was there. His opponent looked nonplussed to be met with a hail of boos.
The Lithuanian wore a perpetually baffled expression as he tried – and failed – to come to terms with Willis’s distinctive off-the-wall lefthanded repertoire. The prevailing heavy slice drew error after error from the world No 54.
Laughing with friends and family in the crowd between points, it seemed as if Willis was barely concentrating on the match. This just added to the earnest Berankis’s confusion. How could a breezy joker with a hint of a spare tyre under his shirt be doing this to him? Well, he was and didn’t the crowd just lap it up? “Will Bomb’s on fire,” they sang in homage to Britain’s No 23. “Shoes off if you love Will Bomb,” they chanted and off came shoes around the court, including one of Willis’s.
The showman just the acclaim.
He broke the former world junior No1 in the first game and, from there, closed out the set 6-3 playing as if he did not have a care in the world. A brilliant forehand pass in fed off the third game of the second set drew a joyous finger wag to the crowd, who by then were craning over the wall at various points from neighbouring Court 16 to see what all the commotion was about.
Willis stretched out into an early lead in the set only for Berankis to break straight back after an elongated fifth game in which the Briton finally cracked after saving six break points.
Willis would not be denied though and some freewheeling tennis brought another break in the eighth game and, after a fortunate net cord in the next game to go to 40-0 up, which brought an apology and a wonky grin to the crowd, the 25-year-old took the second set.
This was his stage and there was no sign of fright as he broke the frazzled Berankis again in the fifth game and then came back from 40-0 down on his own serve to set up the position to serve for the match.
He saved his best until last, delivering an incredible forehand on the run to maintain the momentum and when Berankis mis-hit his service return into the net, a great Wimbledon upset was complete. Could an even more seismic one lie around the corner tomorrow?