Roger Federer plans to put an end to Marcus Willis’s Wimbledon fairytale when he faces the British qualifier whose rise has captivated the All England Club, while defending champion Novak Djokovic hopes to maintain his serene progress, in the second round on Wednesday.
Willis is ranked 772 in the world and just months ago the 25-year-old, who works as a coach to children and senior citizens, was considering calling time on a professional career that appeared to be going nowhere.
But, persuaded to give tennis one last shot by his new girlfriend, Willis battled through to the main draw at Wimbledon via a series of six qualifying matches before beating world number 54 Ricardas Berankis on Monday to set up a dream clash with seven-time champion Federer.
“This is the kind of story we need. I think it’s great. I’m very excited to be playing him actually. It’s not something I get to do very often,” Federer said.
Federer is usually the fans’ favourite at Wimbledon, but Willis’s incredible story has made him an unexpected sensation and the world number three admits he might have to deal with a partisan show-court crowd.
“People will hear about it and naturally they are going to support him, rightfully so because it’s a very cool story. It’s going to make the match difficult,” Federer said.
“He’s playing well but I’m back as well. If he gets the support that’s awesome.
“I hope he can play as good as he can and that I also can play a good match and everybody enjoys themselves.”
Willis, nicknamed ‘Cartman’ after the South Park cartoon character’s portly physique, hit 43 winners and saved 19 of 20 break points to see off Berankis.
But he is the lowest-ranked qualifier to make the second round of a major since Jared Palmer at number 923 at the 1988 US Open
And, after mostly playing club tennis in France and Germany, he is well aware of the enormous step up in class he faces against 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer.
“I don’t think I have ever spoken to him. I don’t think he was at the Tunisia Futures event this year,” Willis said.
The next chapter of Willis’s astonishing story will steal the spotlight, but Djokovic’s bid to remain on course for a calendar Grand Slam is a worthy sub-plot.
The world number one faces France’s Adrian Mannarino after cruising to a 6-0, 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory over Britain’s James Ward.
Having already won the Australian and French Open titles this year, Djokovic, who has triumphed at Wimbledon for the last two years, is halfway to becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to clinch all four majors in one year.
“I maybe dropped the concentration a little bit. But the first part of the match was almost flawless, so I’m very pleased with the way I started Wimbledon,” Djokovic said as he reflected on his 29th successive match victory at the majors.
Elsewhere on Wednesday, Japanese fifth seed Kei Nishikori, hoping to make the Wimbledon last eight for the first time, faces France’s Julien Benneteau.
In the women’s draw, second seed and newly crowned French Open champion Garbine Muguruza takes on Slovakian qualifier Jana Cepelova.
Venus Williams, a five-time Wimbledon winner and the oldest woman in the draw, meets Greek qualifier Maria Sakkari, while Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber faces Varvara Lepchenko of the United States.
After 28 of Tuesday’s matches were unable to be completed because of rain, there will be a bumper catch-up programme on Wednesday.
Two-time champion Petra Kvitova, the 10th seeded Czech, faces injury-plagued Sorana Cirstea of Romania while former runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, the third seed, faces Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova.