The British underdog set to take on Federer
Originally published on 29/06/16 00:00
On Wednesday, Federer will take on British world No.772 Marcus Willis, who upset Ricardas Berankis to become is the lowest-ranked qualifier to reach the second round of a Grand Slam since No.923 Jared Palmer at the 1988 US Open.
The careers of the two are worlds apart. Federer, one of the most famous athletes in the world, has earned more than $98,000,000 in prize money (not to mention millions more in endorsement fees), while Willis has amassed just $95,000 since making his professional debut a decade ago. Two years ago he launched a crowdfunding campaign to help fund another year on tour.
On the verge of quitting the tour to take up a coaching position in the USA, Willis scraped into the LTA’s pre-qualifying Wimbledon play-offs as the last entrant in the 16-player draw. And despite having no grass court practice beforehand, he has now won seven straight matches to set up a dream clash with seven-time Wimbledon champion Federer.
“It’s a great story. I think it’s one of the best stories in a long time,” said Federer. “This is the kind of stories we need in our sport. I’m very excited to be playing him. It’s not something that I get to do very often.
“Sometimes it does happen, with wildcards and so forth in some events. But those are not usually the kind of guys who get wild cards who are usually coaching.
“This is definitely the first on this level. I’ve played a lot of very young players, maybe their rankings were very low. But this match is different. It's picked up on momentum. Naturally people are going to support him rightfully so, because I think it's a very cool story myself.”
With limited scouting opportunities available, Federer had the chance to watch some of Willis’ match on Monday, and he is excited to play the British No.23, whose self-described style is "unorthodox".
“He plays well,” observed Federer. “Plus he is serve and volleying, which I love to see. He came up with some great shots. [He’s] a little bit more old school, using the slice, chipping the returns.
“Nice first serve, serve and volleys. I saw some nice touch at the net. I think his game is perfectly suited for these kind of conditions right now."
“He can just go and check out all my matches and he knows everything about me,” he added. ‘He's got an advantage there.”
For his part, Willis is determined to enjoy what he describes as a “surreal” experience.
“It’s an amazing dream come true. I get to play on a stadium court. This is what I dreamed of when I was younger,” he said. "I'm going to go out there and try to win the tennis match. I probably won't. But I'm going to give everything, as I have the last seven matches."
Willis will be the heavy underdog against 17-time Grand Slam champion, and he admits he cannot afford have too much respect for the Swiss when they step out on court on Wednesday.
“He's a complete player,” Willis said of the former world No.1. “He's a legend of the game. I've got a lot of respect for him. But I've got to go out and try to beat him. That has to go out the window.”
The experience at the All England Club this week has made the former British junior No.1 even more determined to ensure his Wimbledon experience is not a one-off.
“I want to be a top 100 tennis player,” said Willis. “I want this week in and week out. It's going to take a lot of hard work and I've got a lot of improving to do as well.
"I'm playing very good tennis. [But] I've got to understand it's not going to be like this every week. The reality of the tour, it's brutal, it's cutthroat.”
Federer agrees. “Of course, it’s not going to be Wimbledon every week. It’s not going to be grass every week. But let’s not care what’s after this. He should just play everything he’s got now, enjoy himself.
“It was cool to see how pumped up he was. That's how you are when you make a breakthrough. Unfortunately, you mellow out over time because you have to. You have to keep your emotions, your energy, in check.”