Wimbledon sensation Marcus Willis was lovingly described Tuesday as a “social butterfly” who munched chocolate bars and guzzled cola during matches as his tennis career threatened to bottom out.
Willis, the world number 772, has come through six rounds of qualifying as well as winning his first ever tour match to make the second round of Wimbledon and a Hollywood style clash against Roger Federer.
It’s the stuff of dreams for a man who came into Wimbledon having made a paltry $65 from his playing career this year -- courtesy of a third-tier event in Tunisia in February -- and who makes a living out of teaching tennis to children and senior citizens.
Such is the fickle nature of his income that the 25-year-old still lives with his parents although a guaranteed £50,000 ($66,000) for his run at Wimbledon will help him onto a steadier financial footing.
On Tuesday, however, he was remembered for his fun-loving approach to the sport as he made his way through a series of low-profile, morale-sapping tournaments across the world.
“I’m just glad to see him doing well now. I know he had a tough time of it,” said compatriot Liam Broady who was defeated by Andy Murray on Tuesday.
“I think he used to be -- I don’t think he’d mind me saying -- a bit more of a social butterfly, whereas now he seems more switched on and single-minded.”
“Marcus is a comedian. Those Challengers I played him in the States, he was drinking Pepsi on the court, eating Snickers on the court. That’s when he got the nickname Cartman (after the portly character in cult cartoon series South Park). He lives up to it.”
On Wednesday, Willis faces 17-time Grand Slam champion and seven-time Wimbledon winner Federer.
Federer has won 79 more matches at Wimbledon than the Englishman as well as earning career prize money nudging the $100 million mark.
The great Swiss hasn’t lost at Wimbledon before the quarterfinals since a first round exit in 2002.
But as Broady admits, strange things happen in sport -- sometimes.
“Federer said you’d be amazed how little ranking means when it gets to these sorts of matches. I don’t think Roger is going to have played anyone like Marcus,” said Broady.
“It will be tricky. That’s what Marcus always is. He makes opponents win matches. He serves well, serves big, puts pressure on. I personally think it will be a really, really interesting match up.”
Murray told Willis to go out and enjoy the moment on Centre Court, a dramatic change from his day-to-day workplace, coaching at the Warwick Boat Club in central England.
“You don’t see stories like that too often in tennis,” said Murray who described Willis’s breathless, serve-and-volley style as “old school”.
“Anyone can beat anyone in the draw. Obviously Roger’s a massive, massive favourite. I would expect him to win the match fairly comfortably.”
“But Marcus’ game style, it’s pretty old school. He serves and volleys a lot. He uses a lot of slice. He hits the ball fairly flat. He has great hands. He has great feel. That’s something that he’s always, always had.”