It was described in the press and by the man who lived through it as something out of a “fairytale.”
When Marcus Willis, a tennis pro from Great Britain, made his tour debut at the 2016 Wimbledon Championships, he was ranked No. 772 in the world. He wasn’t even on the radar, but then he started winning.
Willis upset Ricardas Berankis in the first round and then moved on to play tennis great Roger Federer on Centre Court. Although he ultimately lost the match to Federer, the one game he did steal away from the third-ranked player was celebrated by the hometown crowd with roaring applause and a standing ovation.
“It was completely crazy,” Willis said. “It didn’t feel real.”
Fans took note of the 25-year-old. Willis’ Twitter followers jumped from about 800 to over 28,000 over the course of his “everyman” run. Tabloids covered his journey and he was celebrated for breathing life and a little magic into the premier tennis event.
When Mark Riley, Tournament Director for this weekend’s United States Tennis Association Boys’ 18 & 16 National Championships, watched Willis this summer, he knew he needed to bring him to Kalamazoo.
Willis obliged and will play 17-year Association of Tennis Professionals pro Michael Russell in exhibition play on Saturday, Aug. 6 at Kalamazoo College’s Stowe Tennis Stadium at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids. The exhibition match will be preceded by the PNC Junior Tennis Clinic, free for kids ages 5-13, starting at 5:45 p.m. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network are sponsors of the tournament.
Riley said Willis’ Wimbledon performance let tennis fans dream and he’s hopeful the British sensation will inspire local youth who attend.
Willis is enjoying the ride of his newfound fame, saying he “can’t complain at all.” He plans to play tennis professionally full-time next year, which is an impressive turnaround considering he’d been thinking about quitting the sport altogether.
With a little luck, a lot of hard work, support from friends and family, and a belief in himself, Willis held onto hope, knowing it could happen.
“Anything’s possible, but you have to have the courage to go for it,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Mark Riley