Willis Goes From Teaching Pro To Wimbledon Main Draw
The British qualifier almost quit the sport before his dream run
Marcus Willis has spent much of this year coaching tennis, but his employers at the Warwick Boat Club will be looking for someone to cover his lessons next week as he continues an improbable run into the main draw of Wimbledon.
The plucky Brit, ranked No. 775 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, was the last player to receive entry into the pre-qualifying draw for Wimbledon. He earned a wild card into the qualifying draw through his performance at that event and continued to produce inspire tennis this week. In his final-round qualifying match on Friday, he outlasted Daniil Medvedev of Russia in four sets to complete his emotional journey into the main draw.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m delighted,” he said. “I’ve always believed in myself and believed I could play really good tennis. I’ve worked hard, got in the gym and got myself in good shape.”
His previous results hadn't indicated he would be ready for his Grand Slam main draw debut next week. Willis excelled in Futures events, winning eight titles over the past three years, but struggled to replicate that success on the ATP Challenger Tour. He won just one main draw match in the eight Challengers he played last year, which included four losses in the qualifying rounds.
Willis endured an injury-filled start to 2016, which limited him to just one tournament in January. His earnings for reaching the quarter-finals in singles and doubles at that Futures event was just $356. He took up a coaching job while continuing to train, but questioned whether he would be happy doing something else.
“I was adamant I was going to go to America and coach [in Philadelphia]. I even called up someone about the visa,” said Willis. “But I met a girl, Jennifer, who basically told me that I was an idiot and that I should keep going. I’m very grateful for her.”
He began to compete in German and French tennis leagues, working hard to put aside money so that he could make another run on the tour in January. Even though he hadn’t competed in a pro tournament in five months, he was able to sneak into the pre-qualifying draw after David Rice dropped behind him in the rankings just before the entry list closed.
“I was unbeaten in all competitions in the German and French tennis leagues, so I thought I was playing well and it wouldn’t be embarrassing,” said Willis. “I didn’t expect to qualify for Wimbledon, though.”
The £30,000 paycheck he’s guaranteed, win or lose after his first-round match against Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, will go a long way towards funding his comeback. But for Willis, money isn’t the motivating factor for him to make another run at fulfilling his tennis dreams.
“It’s certainly the biggest pay day I’ve ever received. I can pay off a couple of credit cards I used to fund my tennis the last couple of years,” said Willis. “It’s great, but I’m not here for the money. I play for the love of competing.”