LONDON: Roger Federer hailed Marcus Willis as one of the great Wimbledon fairytales after the British qualifier set up a dream clash with the seven-time champion.
Willis is ranked 772 in the world and just months ago the 25-year-old, who works as a coach to amateur players, was considering calling time on a professional career that appeared to be going nowhere.
But, persuaded to give tennis one last shot by his new girlfriend, Willis battled through to the main draw at Wimbledon via a series of qualifying matches before claiming a stunning first round win over world number 54 Ricardas Berankis on Monday.
As if that wasn’t enough to get Willis pinching himself, just hours later Federer defeated Guido Pella to give the unknown Briton an unthinkable meeting with the legendary Federer.
Asked if he had been the following the story of Willis, who set up a crowd-sourcing website in a bid to fund his career, the 17-time Grand Slam champion admitted he was as spellbound as the rest of the All England Club.
“Yes I have followed it actually before I even saw him in my section of the draw. It’s one of the best stories in a long time in our sport,” Federer said.
“This is the kind of story we need. I think it’s great. I’m very excited to be playing him actually. It’s not something I get to do very often.”
Federer has rarely faced a player of Willis’s modest stature, but he admires the underdog’s commitment to the lost art of serving and volleying.
“I’m not sure I’ve played someone this low in the rankings,” he said.
“It does happen sometimes with wild cards in some events but the guys who get wild cards are not usually coaching. They go to true professionals.
“This is definitely the first on this level. This match is different. It’s picked up momentum.
“People will hear about it and naturally they are going to support him, rightfully so because it’s a very cool story.
“It’s going to make the match difficult. He plays well. It’s not like he couldn’t play or he wouldn’t be where he is.
“It’s going to be very interesting. Plus he is serve and volleying which I love to see. He came up with some great shots.
“His game is perfectly suited to the conditions right now.”
Willis had will pick up £50,000 for his Wimbledon heroics after just collecting $65 at a tournament in Tunisia in February.
Federer is used to having the adoration of crowds whenever he plays but he believes Willis deserves to take the plaudits when they meet.
“If he gets the support that’s awesome. I hope he can play as good as he can and that I also can play a good match and everybody enjoys themselves,” he added.
“Of course it’s not going to be Wimbledon every week for him but let’s not care what’s after this.
“He should just play with everything he’s got and enjoy it. It was cool to see how pumped up he was. That’s how you are when you make your breakthrough.”