Marcus Willis has taken an unusual path to a match with Roger Federer at Wimbledon.
Federer has won seven titles at Wimbledon alone and is perhaps the greatest tennis player of all–time. Willis hadn’t played a single match on the ATP tour until Monday.
It sounds like a complete mismatch, and it certainly is—but while Willis beating Federer is extremely unlikely, the fact that he reached Wimbledon at all is perhaps even more remarkable.
Willis, a 25-year-old British qualifier from Slough (famously where the British version of The Office took place), almost gave up professional tennis earlier this year. Instead, he found his way into the Wimbledon qualifier playoffs for British players and won three matches to reach the main qualifier tournament. Improbably, he made it through qualifying and reached the main draw.
On Monday, he beat world No. 54 Ricardis Berankis in straight sets, 6–3, 6–3, 6–4.
Ahead of Willis’s big match, get to know Federer’s improbable opponent.
Second–lowest ranked player to qualify for a Slam since ’98
Albano Olivetti qualified for this year’s Wimbledon as the No. 794 player in the world, while Willis qualified as the No. 775 player. The last time a lower–ranked player qualified for a Grand Slam was 1998, when No. 1,122 Mark Knowles qualified for Wimbledon.
Made roughly $356 in prize money this year
Before Wimbledon, that is. On the contrary, Roger Federer has made $38,394 per match this season.
Consider that for a second: Entering Wimbledon, Federer has made $844,669 this year in prize money, actually a relatively low figure for the world No. 3. (He made $6.6 million last season and $9.3 million the season before.)
Over his career, Federer has made nearly $100 million in prize money. Willis has made $95,129, or more than 1,000 times less than Federer. And that number doesn’t include endorsements, of course—and I can assure you that Willis doesn’t have his own line of Nike apparel or his own emoji t-shirts.
The good news for Willis: His opening–round victory guaranteed him $62,000, increasing his career earnings by 65% on one day. That‘s something Federer can’t say!
Last played in a tournament in January
Willis last competed in a professional event in January, when he participated in a tournament in Tunisia—not exactly the All England Club. In Hammamet, he won two matches before bowing out on a walkover in the quarterfinals.
Kept playing tennis because his life is a rom-com
As this delightful Ben Rothenberg story in The New York Times details, Willis is basically living out the plot of the 2004 movie Wimbledon.
Willis almost decided to move to the United States to coach tennis—until he met a girl.
“I was adamant I was going to go to America to coach,” Willis said, according to 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 has been coaching in Warwickshire, and he says he had potential opportunities to coach in Philadelphia.
But you can probably guess the rest of the story. Willis doubled down on his tennis career, and now he’s taking on Roger Federer, begging the question of who should play Federer in the Wimbledon sequel.
Has been compared to Eric Cartman
Eric Cartman is a foul-mouthed, bigoted, arrogant fourth–grader who stars as one of the main characters of South Park. At one point, Willis was compared to him—though thankfully not for any of those reasons.
During a Challenger event in the U.S. in 2014, a fan compared Willis to Cartman because of the Englishman’s physique. Cartman is “big–boned” (his words), and Willis wasn’t in the best shape at the time.
“It was hilarious. I was massively overweight and I made quarterfinals of a Challenger and kept winning five in the third. I’ve got myself in much better shape,” Willis said, according to The Guardian. “I’ve still got to improve and still a few kilos to get rid of but I’m doing it slowly and I’m fit. I can last. I’m in the best shape of my life.”
Following Monday’s win, Willis spoke more about his transformation from a physical standpoint.
“I was a bit of a loser. I was overweight. I was saying off pints. I was just a loser,” he said. “I just looked myself in the mirror, I said, You're better than this."
Federer will meet “Cartman” in the second round on Wednesday.