Loser Willis turns winner to set up Federer tussle
Marcus Willis put his days as a pint-swilling "loser" well and truly in the past by setting up a second round clash with Roger Federer in one of Wimbledon's most unlikely tales.
The 25-year-old, ranked 772nd in the world, almost gave up tennis earlier this year and has been coaching rather than playing on tour, but won his seventh match in a row with a 6-3 6-3 6-4 victory over bemused Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis.
On a normal Monday afternoon, Willis would have been coaching five-year-olds at Warwick Boat Club. Instead, he was beating the 54th best player in the world on a raucous Court 17 packed with his friends and family.
Willis could do little but shake his head at the improbability of it all and no wonder.
A talented junior who quickly learned the harsh reality of life at the bottom of the professional ladder, Willis lacked the discipline and drive to fulfil his potential.
Three years ago he decided to change all that.
"I was a bit of a loser," he said.
"I was overweight. I was slaying off pints. I was just a loser. I just looked myself in the mirror, I said, 'You're better than this'.
"My coach worked very, very hard with me. A lot of people, my family, my close friends got behind me. It's key. You can't do this alone."
Goran Ivanisevic, whose 2001 final Willis watched on tape after school, nervously living every last dramatic moment with his hero, shook his hand to congratulate him.
Now Willis will play 17-time grand slam champion Federer, probably on Centre Court.
Asked if he had ever spoken to the Swiss, Willis said with a smile: "I don't think he was at Tunisia F1 this year."
That was a reference to the only previous tournament Willis played this year, on the lowly Futures Tour. He won two matches and then withdrew, taking home $292 in prize money.
For his victory over Berankis, Willis will earn a minimum of £50,000, not far off his whole career earnings until now.
"There's not much going on in my head right now," he said.
"It's a bit of a blur, but it's all positive. It's got a little bit out of hand."