Warwick Boat Club tennis coach Marcus Willis takes on world number 53 Ricardas Berankis at Wimbledon this afternoon with a potential second-round clash with Roger Federer as the carrot.
However, for the 25-year-old, his progress to court 17 at the All-England Club has already taken on fairy-tale proportions.
Willis sneaked into pre-qualifying at Roehampton as the final British entry and went on to claim his first top-100 scalp there by beating Japan’s Yuichi Sugita,
He followed that up in qualifying with a win over former French Open junior champion Andrey Rublev and then clinched his spot in the main draw with a 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Daniil Medvedev - his sixth qualifying victory.
And according to Graham Harrington, a tennis committee member at Boat Club, Willis’ success was not even foreseen by his clubmates.
“It’s a rags to riches story,” said Harrington.
“He’s been partly coaching with us and partly playing in the French and German leagues.
“He’s been playing for the first team here and he’s very much a member of the club.
“But this has come out of the blue.
“No one thought he would get through the pre-qualifying let alone get into the main draw.
“To get into the top 128 in the world is a great achievement.”
Boat Club tennis manager Gavin Henderson, who brought Willis in to coach at the club, says following his unexpected success plans are already in place for the British number 23 to rejoin the pro tour next year.
“I sat down with him last week and he told me he wanted to go back on the tour,” said Henderson.
“He’ll be coaching three days a week and on the tour four days.
“I’ve got him coaching until the end of the year and we are trying to get him sponsorship so he can get back on the tour in January.
“Some of that [sponsorship] has come from clients he has been coaching.”
The interest in Willis, who also coaches at Warwick School and King’s High, had seen unprecedented demand for interviews from Henderson who was also awaiting the arrival of a television crew at the picturesque River Avon-based club.
However, the media intrusion had not prevented Henderson giving a few words of encouragement to Willis ahead of his first-round encounter.
“I spoke to him ten minutes ago and asked him if he is going to win,” said Henderson who was planning to watch the game at the club. “He said ‘game on’, he’s loving it.”
n Willis will be taking part in an exhibition match at Warwick Boat Club on Saturday as part of Active Away Tennis Holidays /Warwick Boat Club open day.
Free coaching will be available from 12.30pm, with Willis’ match getting under way at 3pm.