The fairytale Wimbledon story of Marcus Willis has strong links to Huddersfield.
That’s because Willis, ranked 775th in the world and making his Wimbledon debut today, is coached by Huddersfield Lawn and Tennis and Squash Club’s very own head coach Matt Smith.
Willis, a 25-year-old children’s tennis coach, faces world No54 Ricardas Berankis in the third match on Court 17 this afternoon, with the winner almost certainly setting up a second-round dream tie with Roger Federer.
His remarkable qualifying story, which began only because fellow Brit David Price fell out of the ranking places, is something Smith is immensely proud of.
“Marcus has had an amazing journey to reach his first Wimbledon,” said Smith, who has coached him for two-and-a-half years.
“He has done four or five months of coaching and playing in the French and German leagues with the hope of getting back on to court as soon as he’d got some money saved up.
“When it came to Wimbledon qualifying last time, a couple of years ago, he seemed to get nervous and it just didn’t happen for him. But he’s played in the pre-qualifiers now and come right through, so it’s great.”
Willis defied the odds by beating world No99 Yuichi Sugita, who took the first set 6-1 before losing the next two 6-4, 6-1.
He then beat former Junior Masters Champion Andrey Rublev in straight sets to set up a final qualifying round against another Russian, Daniil Medvedev.
Although Medvedev raced into a 6-3 opening-set lead, the Slough-born left hander showed stunning comeback ability by winning the next sets 7-5 and 6-3.
The first-round match against Berankis, who has reached the second round of Wimbledon twice before, is set to be his biggest challenge yet, and with a £50,000 prize up for grabs his coach is hoping Willis will make up for lost time.
“I am not surprised that this has happened, but I am surprised it’s happened now” said Smith.
“Two years ago he looked really sharp and he was in great shape. He trained very, very well and after winning back-to-back tournaments he got to his highest ranking of 322.
“One thing led to another after that and he didn’t have a great summer last year, but now he’s come through and reached the main draw for the first time. Like I say, I thought it would have happened two years ago, but it’s great to have made it now.”
Only last year, Willis considered giving up tennis due to a hamstring injury, but his new girlfriend Jennifer persuaded him to not give up on his dream. Working as a dentist, Jennifer will be busy with clinics whilst Willis takes on his Lithuanian opponent.
The late bloomer has also received praise from Andy Murray, who goes into Wimbledon as second favourite, who described Willis’s progress as “great for British tennis. Dreams do come true”.