Willis one of the best stories: Federer

Marcus Willis, the world No. 772 who had to win six matches to get to the main draw of Wimbledon, dons a hat after his straight-sets win against Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania. The Briton will play third seed Roger Federer in the second round today.
Marcus Willis, the world No. 772 who had to win six matches to get to the main draw of Wimbledon, dons a hat after his straight-sets win against Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania. The Briton will play third seed Roger Federer in the second round today. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Roger Federer, tennis' perennial sentimental favourite, will have to surrender that crown today.

His opponent will be the 772nd-ranked Marcus Willis, one of the most improbable men to play a second-round match at Wimbledon in many years.

"I think it's one of the best stories in a long time in our sport," said Federer, who at age 34 has been around long enough to know.

It was quite a Monday all around for rank outsiders. Iceland eliminated England to reach the quarter-finals of football's European Championship, but at least the English can take some small consolation from Willis.

The 25-year-old was charging £30 (S$54.40) an hour for private lessons and pondering a trans-Atlantic move to coach in Philadelphia earlier this year, before a new romance changed his mind and his story arc.

"It's gotten out of hand; a little bit out of hand," Willis said of the hoopla. "I'm enjoying it. Keep it rolling."

After winning three matches in pre-qualifying to earn a wild card into the qualifying tournament at Wimbledon, he won three more matches to earn a spot in the main draw of the tournament itself.

On Monday, he beat 53rd-ranked Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, in the first round as plenty of his compatriots celebrated in the Wimbledon hinterlands of Court 17.

One suspects he will now get to play on an actual show court when he faces Federer, but first Willis needs to reconfirm his hotel reservation.

"I check out every single morning," he said. "I mean, I'm not a heavy favourite for any match I've been playing."

Federer and Willis - two men on extreme ends of the tennis food chain - have yet to meet.

"I don't think he was at Tunisia F1 this year, so no I haven't," said Willis, referring to the futures circuit, which is the lowest level of men's professional tennis.

"As a junior, I walked past him. He was friendly, polite. But I've never had a conversation with him."

But Federer, who likes to keep a wide-angle view of his sport and its emerging figures even in the midst of Grand Slam mania, certainly knows plenty about Willis now.

"I have followed (his story) actually, even before I even saw him in my section of the draw," the Swiss legend said.

"This is the kind of stories we need in our sport."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2016, with the headline 'Willis one of the best stories: Federer'. Print Edition | Subscribe