Marcus Willis: Why a Federer loss may not be a sad affair this Wimbledon

Updated on Jun 28, 2016 04:26 PM IST

Leicester City, Iceland and now Marcus Willis - Is 2016 the year of the underdogs?

With a world rank of 772, Willis had to play in a qualifier event just to get to the Wimbledon qualifiers.(REUTERS)
With a world rank of 772, Willis had to play in a qualifier event just to get to the Wimbledon qualifiers.(REUTERS)
Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi

British player Marcus Willis entered Court No 17 at Wimbledon on Monday for his first ever tour-level match as an injury-prone, financially-strained, ‘overweight loser’ who lived with his parents and wanted to quit tennis for a coaching career.

Two hours later, the world No 775 became part of Wimbledon history by stunning Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis, ranked 721 places above him, in straight sets 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

Read | World No 772 Marcus Willis makes Wimbledon dream come true

The 25-year-old Briton’s win is in no way beginners’ luck as qualifying for the main draw at The Championships is no cake walk. In fact, the Briton had to qualify for the qualifiers itself!

Willis won six straight matches - three prior to, and three during, the qualifiers - before reaching the first round of Wimbledon. In two of the qualifiers, he came from behind to win the matches.

But even those wins were not enough. It was finally ‘luck’ that got him a Wimbledon chance. British player Scott Clayton was not able to come back home on time from an international commitment and another Briton David Rice slipped in the rankings - two coincidences that helped Willis qualify.

“I checked out every single morning from my hotel room during the qualifiers,” Willis told the reporters during a press conference, “I mean I was not a heavy favourite.”

Promising talent to ‘overweight loser’

Marcus Willis celebrates his win with friends. (Reuters)
Marcus Willis celebrates his win with friends. (Reuters)

The 25-year-old latest Wimbledon sensation was born in Slough - a large town 20 miles west of central London - and started playing tennis at a very young age.

When he started out, he was considered a serious talent to watch out for.

“When I was a junior, I was talented. I was bigged up a lot. Then I got dropped in the real world. I played Futures in Romania, losing. I lost a lot of confidence. I made some bad decisions. I went out too much. My lifestyle wasn’t good. I didn’t have the drive,” an emotional Willis told reporters after his win on Monday.

Unable to cope with the hard work the gentleman’s game demanded, Willis lost his way in the middle. He gained a lot of weight, so much so that he was nicknamed ‘Cartman’, after the podgy character from the popular animated show “South Park”.

To make ends meet, he started coaching five-year-olds in a local club for £30 an hour. He also played unknown tournaments in random places not well-known in the tennis world such as Tunisia, Egypt, Thailand, Israel and Kuwait for virtually no prize money, and stayed in bad hotel rooms just to stay afloat.

His prize money this year - just £269 - including both singles and doubles matches shows just how financially strenuous lower-rung tennis can be. But with Monday’s win, Willis is already assured of £50,000 in earnings.

“I would pay my credit card bills with it,” Willis joked.

Love played its part

#awaydays #montpellier #dreamteam #fit 🐸

A photo posted by Marcus Willis (@willbomb90) on

Five months back, he had enough of his ‘loser life’ and he wanted to end his dreams of turning pro and move to United States as a coach.

But his 30-year-old dentist girlfriend Jenny Bate said no to his US move and wanted him to take another shot at the Wimbledon qualifiers.

“I had something going on. There was an option to become a coach in Philadelphia. I wanted to take it. I may or may not have. My girlfriend said to give it a go and so I did it. I do what I’m told to,” a gushing Willis told in the presser amid laughter.

Willis promptly went and kissed Bate after qualifying for the second round.

“Six months or a year ago, I was not very confident about this. I injured my hamstring twice. I had a bit of rough phase,” he said.

“I found the drive three years ago. I worked very hard with my coach Matt Smith in Surbiton – ridiculous times in the morning, ran myself into the ground. But it’s worth it now,” an emotional Willis said in the presser.

FedEx is a fan

Federer described Willis’ tale as a “great, great” story. (AFP)
Federer described Willis’ tale as a “great, great” story. (AFP)

The cherry on top of this fairytale rags-to-riches story is that Willis will meet none other than seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in the second round, the Swiss a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-3 winner over Argentina’s Guido Pella.

“I think it’s one of the best stories in a long time in our sport,” Federer said in a presser after his first-round win. “Other than Djokovic winning slams, Rafa doing a good comeback, and Murray playing great.”

“This is the kind of stories we need in our sport. I think it’s a great, great story. I’m very excited to be playing him actually. It’s not something that I get to do very often. I’m looking forward to that.”

Asked about his chances against the World No 3, Willis joked. “I’m not sure he can play on grass, that’s good,” he said followed by laughter, but continued on a serious note, “Obviously it’s a dream come true, this is what I have been playing for. I’m going to go out there and try and win a tennis match. I probably won’t. I might not. But, I’m going to give everything as I have done in the last seven matches.”

Year of underdogs

On the same evening as Willis’ win, Iceland made it a night to remember, defeating England to enter the quarterfinals of Euro 2016, their first ever appearance in a major international tournament. (REUTERS)
On the same evening as Willis’ win, Iceland made it a night to remember, defeating England to enter the quarterfinals of Euro 2016, their first ever appearance in a major international tournament. (REUTERS)
Leicester City defied 5000-1 odds to win the Premier League. (AP)
Leicester City defied 5000-1 odds to win the Premier League. (AP)

2016 has proved to be the year of the underdogs. It started with Leicester City winning the Premier League and on Monday Iceland thumped England in the Euro championships. Marcus Willis is a recent addition to the list. But can he do the unthinkable in the second round? Beating Roger?

Willis has got a lot of support from fans all over the world who are inspired by his epic battle to reach where he is today.

Sample these tweets:

If this is indeed the year of the underdogs, then the David vs Goliath second-round battle could well throw up some surprises.

With an epic back story, a raucous home crowd cheering him on centre court, and a nothing-to-lose attitude, if Willis does manage to conquer Federer in the second round - tennis fans will not be shocked or saddened this time for Willis is a deserving contender.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Vignesh Radhakrishnan was part of Hindustan Times’ nationwide network of correspondents that brings news, analysis and information to its readers. He no longer works with the Hindustan Times.

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