A Good Day for England

June 29, 2016 — Let’s start at the end.

1. Roger Federer did beat Marcus Willis, but England really won.

2. Federer endeared himself even more to his world-wide fan base.

3. Willis should consider a run at a real tour career. 

For a country that’s rain soaked, is still reeling from a vote to leave the European Union, and has watched its currency plummet on international money markets, England’s own Marcus Willis has been a sign of hope. The 25-year-old teaching professional came to SW19 with a tale custom made to tug at hearts. 

Federer vs. Djokovic final Western and Southern Open 2015 08 23 LB 0014

Roger Federer walked on to Stadium Court in Mason, Ohio, to play the final against Novak Djokovic last summer. Although Federer was the singular focus on that occasion, filled those shoes today at Wimbledon. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

About to embark to the United States to continue his teaching career, he met a girl — Jennifer Bate. 

“It was about a week after we met,” Bate told a Wimbledon correspondent. “And, it had been quite intense. We’d gone on a date and I’d actually driven all the way from Devon to see him. My mom said, I think you like this guy, go see him. Towards the end of the day he said, I might be going to America. But it was the way he said it … as if he wanted me to say something. So literally I just blurted out, don’t go. I said whatever you need we’ll do it. At least give it one more shot. Now we’re here."

Wimbledon then granted Willis a wildcard into the Pre-Qualification Draw. He made it through those three rounds. Then he worked his way through another three rounds in the Qualification Draw. Then, in his major debut Monday he beat Ricardas Berankis in straight sets. The odds that Willis would get through that match were extremely low. The Lithuanian native was ranked No. 57 and Willis No. 772. But he did. And, as the draw dictated, he was to face 17-time Grand Slam Champion Roger Federer on Centre Court Wimbledon.

It’s the kind of story we need in our sport,” Federer said, reported the The Daily Mail two days ago. “I am very excited to be playing him actually."

Yet this is a story about risk and reward. About romance and sport. Had Willis not met Bates, we never would have seen his endearing dimpled smile, witnessed the joy of his shoeless diehard fans and thousands of others who chose to wear shoes, or seen the tears in his eyes after he’d gotten a hug from Federer at the net … after he’d lost 6-0, 6-3, 6-4. 

“I was enjoying it out there,” he said, The Guardian reported. “If I’m playing quite well and competing with Roger Federer for a couple sets, I’m doing the right thing. I even loved being duffed up. Well, not the duffed up part, but the whole thing was just incredible."

Federer was well aware of the occasion. For sport. For Wimbledon. For England. Three times he showed deference toward Willis. 

Usually the higher ranked player walks on to Centre Court second. Today, Federer went first. At the end of the match, the winner normally takes a bow and, in the case of Roger, claps his racquet in appreciation of fan support and the victory. He didn’t do that. He turned over Centre Court to Willis who seemed reluctant and self-conscious as he waved and took a bow in front of 15,000 people. All of whom seemed emancipated by the occasion. Finally, Federer waited for Willis before leaving the stadium. They both signed autographs, but only Willis posed for a few selfies. 

Federer, the David of this David and Goliath match tale, was not cavalier about his approach to today's encounter. “My mindset going in was that I was playing someone in the top 50,” he told the BBC after the match. 

Willis may not have played as well as someone in the top 50. It didn’t matter. He stretched Federer occasionally until the moment arrived when fun was done. At 4-games all in the third, he stepped up his game and broke Willis at love. He then served out the match.

“It was very different,” Federer admitted to the BBC about the experience. “[It] brought unbelievable energy to the court. He showed some great shots. It was like in 2001 when I walked out here against Pete [Sampras].”

Not only can Willis tell this story to his children, he can spice it up with stat facts. He equaled Federer on aces - 9 each. He had a positive winners/unforced errors - +3. And, he held two break points. He didn't convert either, but he can leave out that part. 

I’ve had a fantastic few weeks,” Willis said. “And this has been great. But there’s life after Wimbledon and I want more. More experiences like this. I have to knuckle down and work harder.” 

We all hardily agree. 

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013