Tennis: World no.772 Marcus Willis seals dream match-up with Federer at Wimbledon
Willis, 25, was on the verge of quitting the sport but, having been encouraged to keep going by his girlfriend, he defeated Lithuania's world number 54 Ricardas Bernakis 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to secure a second round meeting against Swiss star Federer, who is a 17-time Grand Slam champion.
In the main qualifying event Willis beat world number 99 Yuichi Sugita, former Junior Masters champion Andrey Rublev, and Russia's Daniil Medvedev to seal his lifetime ambition of a place at Wimbledon.
Ahead of the tournament he was working as a coach at Warwick Boat Club and was contemplating a move to the US.
He met his new girlfriend, Jennifer Bate, in February and she convinced him not to give up on his dream.
"I had the option of going to Philadelphia," Willis said. "I'm not sure I would have gone but I had the option. Then I met [Jennifer], she told me not to, so I didn't. I did what I was told."
The decision has now paid big dividends with his victory over Bernakis guaranteeing him a minimum $66,500 payday.
"This is a bit scary," Willis added. "It has all got a bit out of hand. Goran [Ivanisevic, the champion in 2001] just came and shook my hand and he is my hero."
Willis, who was once teased about his weight, produced a determined performance against the Lithuanian, saving 19 out of 20 break points on his way to a straight sets success.
The 25-year-old had earned just $356 during 2016 to take his career income to $95,129. Now he gets to face Federer – most likely on Centre Court.
"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 match. I probably won't – but I'm going to give everything, as I have the last seven matches.”
Willis is 23rd in the British standings and only fellow qualifier Albano Olivetti (791) has a lower ranking at Wimbledon than him.
A talented junior player, Willis admits that a bad attitude and a loss of confidence hampered his progress in the game but with help of his coach, Matt Smith, he turned things around.
"I sorted my head out. I was in a bad place and really was at a low point. Time helped and I met a girl and since then, it has been very good and my head has been right," Willis said.
Federer, currently ranked world number three, booked his place against Willis with a 7-6, 7-6, 6-3 win over Argentina's Guido Pella, and said he was intrigued by the Briton's story.
"That's exactly what our sport needs sometimes – someone coming out of nowhere," he said.
"It’s a huge moment for him and for me it's big too, so I am really looking forward to it. But his story is unbelievable."
Willis hopes his resurgence will spark a run into the world's top 100 players, although he acknowledged Federer represents a major obstacle to his hopes of reaching Wimbledon's third round.
"He's just a bit better than me," he said of Federer. "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."