(Reuters) – Marcus Willis, the Briton whose tennis fairytale enchanted Wimbledon last year, made a strong start to his latest adventure to reach the main draw of the world’s biggest tournament on Monday as he won his first qualifying match at Roehampton.
The 26-year-old, whose rise from obscurity to a Center Court date with Roger Federer captured the nation’s imagination, began his 2017 odyssey by defeating Slovakia’s Andrej Martin 7-5 7-5 in the first qualifying round.
This time last year, Willis embarked on a run that saw him come through pre-qualifying, qualifying and the first round of the main draw before the adventure was finally ended by Federer, who was happy to play a supporting role to the happy-go-lucky Willis.
The story of the club coach who had been about to give up the sport until his girlfriend Jennifer persuaded him to carry on captured the headlines last year as his noisy fan club cheered on ‘Will Bomb’ at courtside.
Now the world No.374 Willis is hoping to reprise his 2016 achievements, starting off his campaign to make the main draw next week by defeating Martin, who is ranked 226 places higher.
Just as last year, though, Willis, who must win three rounds to make the singles draw even though he has been given a wild card to compete in the doubles, made a nonsense of the rankings with his backhand slice and grasscourt nous earning him crucial breaks at 5-5 in both sets.
Asked if it had been an emotional return to the qualifying venue a few miles from Wimbledon, Willis told the BBC: “I was a bit nervy at the start. You have to just forget it. As soon as emotions get involved, you can crumble.
“It’s very easy to choke under the pressure. That’s what I’ve been doing well to avoid.”
There is also a new plotline in Willis’s 2017 story. After last year’s event, he got married and has become a father to baby Martha, who was at courtside with mother Jennifer on Monday.
“Martha’s my lucky mascot,” he said. “She doesn’t have a clue what’s going on but as long as she’s got her milk, she’s fine!”
(Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Hugh Lawson)