Not my usual Wednesday, says unlikely lad Willis
By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - With a huge dollop of understatement and a wry smile, rank outsider Marcus Willis described the day he faced the greatest player of all time on Wimbledon's Centre Court as "not my standard Wednesday".
"Not enjoying my alarm, getting up, training in the morning then stretching in the gym, getting a cup of tea and banging out four hours (coaching)," the Briton, who earns 30 pounds ($40.33) an hour feeding balls to beginners, told reporters when asked what his normal timetable involved.
"It's not playing Roger Federer on Centre Court," added the 25-year-old.
That was his reality, though, as a boy's own adventure, which began in hope rather than expectation in pre-qualifying, culminated in a moment that club hackers around the world can only ever dream about.
The world number 772 is no hacker -- he was a talented junior who acknowledged he "had a blip" -- as some of his audacious play in a 6-0 6-3 6-4 second-round defeat showed.
Just to reach the main draw of a grand slam for the first time the left-hander, who once described himself as a "fat boy" and almost quit, survived six rounds of qualifying.
Then to earn a crack at seven-times Wimbledon champion Federer, he had to bridge a yawning rankings gap of more than 700 to oust Lithuania's Ricardas Berankis in the first round.
In a week when England's much-maligned soccer team were humiliated by Iceland in the Euro 2016 tournament, no wonder Willis's heroics captured the imagination of the British public.
He did not let them down on Wednesday either, and there was no shame in ultimately being outclassed by the Swiss 17-times grand slam champion who he kept honest throughout.
Cheered on by his court-side friends, who serenaded the British number 23 player with their chant of "Will Bomb's on fire," he was even applauded later when he arrived for his news conference.
"It was all just a blur. It was amazing. I did enjoy myself even though I was getting duffed up," said Willis who added 50,000 pounds to the paltry $300 prize money he had earned so far this year from low-ranking tournaments.
"I loved every bit of it. Not the duffing bit. I loved getting stuck in, fighting hard.
"I was nervous. I mean, Centre Court, the atmosphere is amazing. I thought I played okay. I was in games. I just didn't get on the board (in the first set).
A deafening roar erupted when Willis got on the scoreboard by winning the eighth game, having lost the first set in 25 minutes. After that he posed Federer some awkward questions.
Wearing a white shirt bearing Federer's RF logo, which he bought last year, he even had Federer scampering around at times with some exquisite drop volleys and one sensational lob.
"He's just ridiculous. The big points today he played ridiculously well. It wasn't like he was flashy. We all know he can be flashy, but he was just rock solid today," said Willis.
As 34-year-old Federer moved on to the third round with an eighth Wimbledon crown still in sight, life will slowly return to normal for Willis.
He said he might even return to local leagues, although after experiencing the grandest stage he believes his career could be ready for lift-off.
"I just enjoy playing tennis. Just throw the ball up and hit it," he said. "I think it will change a little bit, but I still want to keep my head down and keep carrying on to enjoy it.
"I've been training and playing a lot. That's not going to change. I have time to hit my peak in a few years."
($1 = 0.7439 pounds)
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)