LONDON: Marcus Willis’s Wimbledon fairytale came to an end against Roger Federer, but the British qualifier’s 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 defeat couldn’t ruin a day to remember for the new star of the All England Club.
Willis has captivated the tennis world with his rags to riches rise and although the world number 772 was unable to spring what would have been Wimbledon’s greatest upset, he enjoyed every minute of his unlikely second round meeting with world number three Federer.
The 25-year-old hit 24 winners, served nine aces and twice came within a whisker of breaking Federer, all while displaying the effervescent personality that has made him such a fan favourite.
“It sounds funny but I am disappointed to lose,” admitted the Englishman.
“It’s daunting. It’s tough. I was playing alright at first, I settled into the match. I was enjoying it. If I was playing well and competing with Roger for a couple of sets I was doing well.
“I’ve earned myself a beer now!”
Given the thankless task of raining on Willis’s parade, Federer was in business-like mood amid the raucous Centre Court atmosphere and now plays Dan Evans or Alexandr Dolgopolov in the third round.
“It was very different. Marcus brought some unbelievable energy to the court with the fans, his play and his personality as well,” Federer said.
“It was very refreshing. I always knew it was going to be a completely different match than I’d played at Wimbledon before.
“Marcus had nothing to lose. He could go out and enjoy himself and I thought he did that wonderfully.”
Just months ago Willis, who works as a coach to children and senior citizens at the Warwick Boat Club in the English midlands, was considering calling time on a tennis career that appeared to be going nowhere.
But, persuaded to give it one last shot by his new girlfriend, Willis battled through to the main draw at Wimbledon via six qualifying matches before beating world number 54 Ricardas Berankis in the first round.
His reward was spending 84 minutes trading blows with a seven-time Wimbledon champion and, given the massive gulf in class, Willis acquitted himself better than most expected.
Wearing an expression of bemused delight throughout the warm-up that suggested he could scarcely believe where he was, Willis gave the impression of having been picked out of the crowd to play the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
When he won his first point in the opening game after a Federer miscue, Willis, cheekily playing in a shirt monogrammed with the Swiss great’s ‘RF’ logo, pumped his fists as the crowd erupted.
Having never played a tour match before Wimbledon, the sturdily-built left-hander, dubbed ‘Cartman’ after a portly character from cartoon series South Park, was facing a man who has won 79 matches more than him at the All England Club.
Federer has career earnings just shy of $100 million, while Willis has banked just $200 this year and still lives with his parents.
Hoping to consolidate his comeback from an injury-plagued year, Federer had no intention of prolonging a story straight from a Hollywood movie.
But, although he won the first set without dropping a game, the Swiss great found himself stretched a little more than he might of imagined by Willis’s unorthodox style.
Every point Willis won triggered the kind of roar usually reserved for the decisive moments of a final, with one superb lob over Federer showing the talent that once made him a highly-rated junior.
When the Brit finally won his first game in the second game of the second set, the resulting standing ovation reverberated around Centre Court.
Willis won two more games before Federer closed out the set and, growing increasingly comfortable in his surroundings, he pushed his illustrious opponent even harder in the third set.
It took Federer’s best to stave off a break point in the sixth game and when Willis’s slice drifted long on match point to end his adventure it was still the underdog who departed to the loudest applause.