Henman says Willis beating Federer would be bigger than Iceland's win over England
Warwick Boat Club coach Marcus Willis' fairy-tale run at Wimbledon has undoubtedly captured the UK's sporting imagination.
And if he can somehow keep it going to beat the great Roger Federer in round two, Tim Henman claims that victory would be a far greater shock than Iceland beating England at Euro 2016.
Willis’ story is truly remarkable - ranked at 772 in the world, having won just £220 in prize money this season and only given entry into Wimbledon pre-qualifying at the last moment.
Six wins on the trot saw him reach the main draw against all odds, where he promptly caused one of the biggest shocks in Wimbledon history to beat world number 54 Ricardas Berankis 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 and set up a second-round tie with Federer.
And while former British number one Henman, who has known Willis for many years, claims he always had the talent, he acknowledges the application was often an issue.
“I’ve known Marcus for a long time because when I was still playing I moved down to London and was practising at Bisham Abbey, which is where he was based,” said Henman, who was speaking on behalf of HSBC, the Official Banking Partner of The Championships.
“He was always a kid with a lot of character but if anything, lacked the commitment and wasn’t in good enough shape.
“In tennis you’ve got to have three elements - the game, the physicality and the mentality. “He’s struggled in a lot of those areas but on grass - given the conditions and how comfortable he is, because he’s got a very good lefty serve - he can make life difficult.
“It’s an amazing story that he nearly didn’t get in pre-qualifying because he was first reserve and there was someone who wasn’t able to get back from a Futures event in Turkey in time, so he got in.
“Seven matches later he’s playing Federer so it’s one of those dream stories and incredibly special.
“I think it would be a much bigger shock than Iceland beating England if Willis beats Federer.”
Having won 17 Grand Slam titles, Federer is in the conversation as the greatest tennis player of all time - with Henman insisting he is the best of the lot.
The former world number four concedes it is highly unlikely that Willis - who is working as a tennis coach at Warwick Boat Club - will beat the Swiss but has urged the 25-year-old to enjoy the occasion.
“It’s difficult to beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon - you’ve certainly got to play great tennis,” added Henman.
“Federer has had the most difficult year of his professional life with the knee surgery, illness and not a lot of match practice. In the first round, he was made to work very hard.
“It’s a very difficult challenge but what a great opportunity for Willis - he’s got nothing to lose, it will be on a big court so go out there and enjoy yourself.
“In sport, especially a two-horse race, you have to go on the court with belief. For Marcus to have that opportunity and go out there with a gameplan, good luck to him. It will be amazing for him, his family and his supporters.”
n Tim Henman is an HSBC ambassador. HSBC is the Official Banking Partner of The Championships and is committed to supporting tennis from the back garden to Centre Court. Follow @HSBC_Sport