The Huddersfield coach behind the dream story of Marcus Willis says the rags-to-riches hero should get back on the tournament circuit after his exploits at Wimbledon.
Matt Smith, 31, is head coach at Huddersfield Lawn Tennis & Squash Club but has been busy at the All England club this week after Willis – the broke 25-year-old No772 in the world – qualified for the biggest tournament of them all.
Not only that, but after his first-round win against Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, Willis takes on 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer on Centre Court.
It’s a far cry coaching eight-year-olds in Warwick for £30 and, after pocketing just £265 this season, he’ll be rewarded with at least £50,000 for his exploits in SW19.
Smith reckons that should be the platform to get back on the circuit proper for a talent who almost quit the sport three years ago. His girlfriend, Jennifer Bate, persuaded him to give it another go.
“Part of him feels like he is enjoying life away from it (tournament play) and doing his coaching, even though it’s been only for a few months,” explained Smith.
“I think he is a little bit torn, but I think he should get into the next tournament – in Newport I think – get out and play and keep the ball rolling while he’s got some money in the bank.
“We could do a training block around Christmas and then go again in January, but obviously I will support him whatever decision he makes.
“He will go on from this strongly, I believe, and he knows where I am, what I can offer and the fact that we have been successful.”
Willis was overweight when Smith took on his coaching two-and-a-half years ago – nicknamed Cartman after the obese cartoon kid in South Park – but he worked so hard to get back in shape that he was often physically sick during training in Surbiton.
That work was rewarded in pre-qualifying and qualifying for Wimbledon, although this progress has come as no surprise to Smith.
“I always thought he would beat Berankis,” explained Smith.
“The only surprise was how comfortable it was, in straight sets, but we had done a lot of scouting on Berankis and I couldn’t see how he could get at Willis if he played a solid game and used his weapons, which he did.
“Since then we’ve been working hard in practice and we’ve set out our usual game plan – but it’s never been about Roger Federer before!
“I’ve asked the referee if we an go on Centre Court during the match before, just so that Marcus can get a feel for the place, the atmosphere and the occasion, and doesn’t suddenly start thinking about it when he’s hitting balls in the warm-up.
“We’ve got to try and make it as normal as possible, just a match against another bloke.
“The other bloke might be unbelievably tood at tennis, but no-one is ungettable.”