THE TRUE spirit of sport was epitomised by Marcus Willis when he took to Centre Court at Wimbledon to take on seven-time champion Roger Federer.
The 25-year-old looked like the cat who got the cream throughout the match despite losing in straight sets to Federer on Wednesday afternoon in front of a packed crowd at the home of British tennis.
Ranked 772nd in the world, the Warwick tennis coach came through six rounds of qualifying, saw off Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis on his debut at the world’s most famous tennis tournament and became the nation’s new favourite underdog.
It took seven games for Willis to get his name on the board, but when he did the roof of the court nearly came off thanks to the cheers of “shoes off if you love Willis!”
“I was nervous,” said Willis. “I mean, Centre Court, the atmosphere is amazing. I did enjoy myself even though I was getting duffed up. I loved every bit of it – not the duffing bit.
“I thought I played okay. I was in games, I just didn’t get on the board. He makes you play. He’s class. He put me under the cosh and came out firing.
“I played a good point where I lobbed him. I can say I lobbed Roger Federer.
“I’m obviously disappointed to lose, it’s a natural feeling and I’m very competitive.
“Part of me now, rightly or wrongly, is feeling frustrated because I can play better than that. But I can’t expect it to be easy. He’s a level above me. He’s class.”
Federer – who let Willis walk onto court first and even left at the end of the match to let his opponent relish in the cheers of his supporters – said what an ‘unbelievable energy’ Marcus brought to Centre Court with his play, the fans and his enthusiasm.
On court the pair were dressed almost identically all in white with headbands to match. Marcus’ polo shirt even bore Federer’s trademark ‘RF’ logo and he revealed he had bought the top for the Grand Slam last year which he had hoped to play in.
Asked what it was like to play one of the greatest players to grace the Wimbledon court, Willis continued: “He makes you feel like you’ve got no time.
“He puts a lot of balls on the court in big points. You can’t leave the ball anywhere short or high. It’s just gone.
“He’s just ridiculous. The big points he played ridiculously well. It wasn’t like he was flashy. We all know he can be flashy, but he was just rock solid.
“He was very kind. He was a true gent, as he always is. I’ve got things to work on, it’s a good start here, a very good start.”
The British number 23 will take home £50,000 for making the second round and is set to jump some 350 places in the world rankings from 772 to 416. Previously this year his earnings totalled just $350.
“This whole few weeks has been a blur,” Willis added. “I just want to relax and go to sleep. I’m quite tired. I’ve gone from one extreme to the other in a matter of days.
“I get messages saying, Thanks so much, I believe in myself now. It’s nice. It’s nice to have that touch.
“I don’t know the effect on what it’s doing. People seem happy for me. People got behind me. It’s amazing.
“I will keep training as I have been. I’ve been training and playing a lot. That’s not going to change. I think I have time to hit my peak in a few years.
“Even before I played Berankis in the first round, I want to be here. This is where I want to play tennis. I’m good enough.
“I have a lot to work on, a lot to improve. So that’s exciting for me if I’m playing like this. If I have a lot to work on and improve, then it can be exciting.
Willis is set to play in the Warwick Boat Club’s first team tonight (Thursday) in the Coventry and District Lawn Tennis League. The team are trailing leaders Hampton in Arden by just three points.
Photos courtesy of Wimbledon