Meteoric rise sees Willis on Centre Court to face Federer

Liam Broady in action against Andy Murray.
Liam Broady in action against Andy Murray.
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Marcus Willis grasped the extent of his new-found fame when his fellow Tube passengers realised the man sitting across the carriage was also on the front pages of their newspapers.

The 25-year-old shunned a courtesy car to travel into Wimbledon on public transport the day after his stunning triumph over Ricardas Berankis.

Willis’s story is becoming well known – the club coach ranked 772 who came through six qualifying matches to reach the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament and set up a second-round clash with Roger Federer on Wednesday on Centre Court.

It has captured the imagination of the public, as Willis discovered.

He said: “I came on the tube this morning. A couple of people came up to me and obviously I was on a couple of front pages and people were pointing at that.

“But everyone was very lovely, I had a couple of photos and it was all nice-spirited. The public have been amazing. I haven’t had a chance to reply to all the messages but thanks to everyone. It really means a lot to me.”

It is not just the fans who have been captivated by Willis’s progress, Federer has also been following the story.

The 17-time grand slam champion said he was excited to play Willis, to which the man from Wokingham who still lives with his parents said with a shake of the head: “That’s weird, very cool. I’m excited to play him too.”

Willis has been in demand for media appearances not just in Britain but across the world.

His main focus, though, is on ensuring his story does not end with a whimper against Federer.

Willis has worked extremely hard to turn his life around after labelling himself an ‘overweight loser’, and sleep rather than celebrations were the order of the day on Monday night.

“I was absolutely conked out by the time I got into bed,” he said. “It’s very different for me, it’s very intense now, and I’m enjoying every minute.

“I’m getting used to it. It’s still amazing but I’m just here to play tennis and do my job.”

It would surely be a fairytale chapter too far to think he could upset Federer but the world No 3 is certainly not taking anything for granted.

Willis’s unorthodox game, featuring heavy slice, deft volleys and a wicked left-handed serve, has driven his seven opponents so far to distraction.

Berankis was left utterly bewildered, and Willis’s football-style cheer squad added to the Lithuanian’s discomfort.

Federer said: “People will know about (Willis’s story). Naturally they’re going to support him. Rightfully so, because I think it’s a very cool story myself. It’s going to make the match difficult.

“I saw him play (against Berankis). He plays well. It’s not like he couldn’t play. Otherwise he wouldn’t be where he is.

“It’s going to be interesting. Plus he is serve and volleying, which I love to see. He came up with some great, great shots. To beat a guy of Berankis’s calibre in straight sets shows you how tough he is.

“First couple of days, it’s tricky to play anybody here at Wimbledon. I think his game is perfectly suited for these kind of conditions right now.”

Asked to assess the differences between his game and Federer’s, Willis began to answer before saying with a chuckle: “I didn’t think I’d be answering these questions in a million years.

“He’s a complete player. 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.”

Willis shared the front pages with political turmoil and more England football shame, providing a much-needed good news story.

“It’s great,” he said. “I’m just doing my job and if I make people happy then that’s fantastic.”

Fellow Brit Johanna Konta looks set to join Willis in the second round as she led Monica Puig 6-1 2-1 before persistent rain meant play had to be abandoned for the night at the All England Club.

Heather Watson’s encounter against Germany’s Annika Beck, scheduled to go last on Court Two, was also postponed until Wednesday.

But British No 2 Aljaz Bedene was beaten 6-3 6-4 6-3 by seventh seed Richard Gasquet and 17-year-old Katie Swan lost 6-2 6-3 to world No 44 Timea Babos.

Defending champion Serena Williams has insisted she is not burdened by the pressure of chasing a 22nd grand slam title to emulate Steffi Graf.

Williams swept past Amra Sadikovic 6-2 6-4 at Wimbledon, to book a second-round clash with fellow American Christina McHale.

The 34-year-old has stalled on 21 major titles since claiming her sixth crown at SW19 last year, but remains bullish about her chances of drawing level with Graf’s open-era record.

“I think more or less about winning Australia, I think about winning the French Open; didn’t happen,” said Williams.

“I think about winning Wimbledon. I don’t necessarily think about winning 22.”

Former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki will drop out of the top 50 after her straight-sets, 7-5 6-4 first-round defeat to Svetlana Kuznetsova.