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Who Is Marcus Willis, the British Tennis Coach Taking on Roger Federer at Wimbledon?

Getty Images
Getty Images

Between Brexit and England’s devastating (if hilarious) loss to Iceland in Euro 2016, it’s been a turbulent week in Great Britain. Amazingly, though, an unlikely national hero has emerged at Wimbledon: youth tennis instructor and world no. 772 Marcus Willis. After defeating the heavily favored Ricardas Berankis in the first round (in straight sets, no less!), Willis will take on Roger Federer tomorrow, and, win or lose, his story will inspire pudgy tennis players for years to come. Let’s prepare for the match by learning a little bit more about him.

How did he even get into Wimbledon? Given his low ranking, Willis was the last person to receive an entry to Wimbledon’s pre-qualifying draw. He won three matches to advance to the qualifying tournament, where he won another three matches to make it to the main draw. He was probably overjoyed just to reach Wimbledon, and now he’s facing the GOAT in the second round. Life comes at you fast.

Does Willis have a rabid fan base? When it comes to the Willis Wolfpack, “rabid” might be an understatement:

Willis’s unruly supporters are bound to stir up some trouble. Let’s get a Facebook livestream on them immediately.

What’s the most incredible anecdote about his career? Earlier this year, Willis nearly put his Wimbledon dreams aside to relocate to Philadelphia for a full-time coaching job. “I was adamant I was going to go to America to coach,” he told The New York Times. “I had called up someone about the visa — and then I met a girl. She basically told me I was an idiot and that I should keep going, and I’m very grateful for that.”

Willis should give his girlfriend, Jenny Bate, at least half of the £50,000 (around $67,000) he’s earned at Wimbledon so far. (Hopefully he cashes those winnings out soon — with the way the Brexit is going, his earnings, which would have been worth roughly $75,000 five days ago, will be worth, like, $50 in a month). If his story doesn’t result in a mushy rom-com starring Daniel Radcliffe and Bate doppelgänger Alison Pill, you have to wonder why we even have a movie industry.

How much does he charge for a lesson? According to Peter Grant, the tennis captain at Warwick Boat Club, Willis charges just £30 ($40) for a one-hour session — the same as every coach at the club. Talk about a deal!

I read that Willis is only a part-time coach. In light of his success at Wimbledon, will the Warwick Boat Club hire him to a full-time position? I posed this question to Grant, who wrote that Willis will “continue as a part-time coach,” presumably because of his responsibilities as a player.

Does Willis have more potential as a player or as a coach? Because he’s only 25, Grant believes “his potential is huge as a player.”

Does he play any other sports? Kind of. Willis dabbles in touchtennis, which features a smaller court, foam balls, and shorter rackets. He’s earned £2,725 (around $3,600) in his career, and he was consistently ranked in the top 5 from 2010 to 2012. If only touchtennis weren’t the tennis equivalent of disc golf, Willis might already be a national hero!

Here is a video of him making an “AMAZING” shot, per touchtennis’s official YouTube channel:

I reached out to Larry Haugness, America’s official touchtennis ambassador, for an expert’s take on Willis’s career in the sport. Unsurprisingly, Haugness believes that Willis’s touchtennis background has prepared him well for Federer. “I’m sure his touchtennis footwork helped,” Haughness wrote in an email to The Ringer. “The pressure scoring system had to help also … Let’s hope he continues with touchtennis and gives it some credit for his run.”

Does Willis have any advice for aspiring tennis professionals? He most certainly does! Check out his seven-minute instructional video on the subject, aptly titled “What does it take to be a pro?” While he fails to mention the need for a supportive girlfriend, his insights are pretty trenchant:

After a two-minute montage of Willis smashing tennis balls to soca music, we get to the much-anticipated advice section. He urges serious juniors to “stay away from the nightclubs,” and claims to spend 60–90 minutes per day in the gym, which is ironic given his former status as a dadbod icon. He was even nicknamed “Cartman” for his physique.

What does fellow Brit Andy Murray think of Willis’s performance? He found it worthy of a whopping six Smiling Face With Open Mouth and Smiling Eyes emoji:

No higher praise than that. Murray just better hope he doesn’t end up in a finals matchup with Willis, which is the only conceivable scenario in which Murray wouldn’t be the crowd favorite.

What is Willis’s ultimate goal? “I want to be a top-100 tennis player. 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,” Willis told Going from no. 772 to the top 100 will be a tough task, but a win over Federer, currently ranked no. 3, would cause his world ranking to skyrocket.

How can I watch the match tomorrow? Willis has the chance to bask in the spotlight on Wimbledon’s Centre Court tomorrow. He’ll face Federer in the third match of the day, with the first match beginning at 8 a.m. ET. The match will be broadcast on ESPN.

So, does he have any chance of pulling off the upset? Leicester City just won the Premier League — anything is possible! I mean, it’s not as if Fed plays well on grass or anything.