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Sports

The Willis Fairytale is Over: Federer Beats Qualifier in 3 Sets

On a day of rain delays at Wimbledon, the 772nd-ranked left-hander is finally overcome

Marcus Willis of Britain grimaces during his men's singles match against Roger Federer of Switzerland on day three of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Wednesday, June 29, 2016, photo: AP/Tim Ireland
1 year ago

LONDON — Roger Federer was not about to let this feel-good story spoil his own Wimbledon.

The seven-time champion — perhaps the greatest player of all time — showed little mercy Wednesday against Marcus Willis, a 772nd-ranked British qualifier who had never won a tour-level match until this week and has captivated the home nation with his improbable run.

Putting aside sentimentality and ignoring the carnival-like atmosphere, Federer won the first seven games and sailed to a 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 victory in a second-round match played under the Centre Court roof on another rainy day at the All England Club.

“It was very refreshing to play against an opponent like this,” Federer said. “I always knew it was going to be a completely different match than everything that I’ve played before here at Wimbledon.”

He compared it to the time he walked out to play Pete Sampras on Centre Court in 2001.

“‘I remember how nervous I was and how big a deal it was,” Federer said. “You had nothing to lose and you could just go out there and enjoy yourself. Marcus did that wonderfully.”

While Willis savored the moment — smiling, laughing and playing to the raucous crowd throughout the match — there was never much doubt about the outcome.

“I was enjoying it out there,” Willis said. “If I’m playing well and competing with Roger Federer for a couple of sets, I’m doing the right things. I’ve still got a lot to learn, a lot of improving to do.”

Staff members cover the court during a rain delay on day three of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Wednesday, June 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Staff members cover the court during a rain delay on day three of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Wednesday, June 29, 2016. Photo: AP/Ben Curtis

“It sounds funny,” he added, “but I’m disappointed to lose. I went out there trying to win.”

Willis, a 25-year-old lefthander, was the lowest-ranked qualifier to reach the second round of a Grand Slam since 1988. He has been giving tennis lessons at a club in central England, and he was only recently talked out of giving up on his goal of making it on the pro tour by his girlfriend.

Willis made the most of his time on the most famous stage in the sport. He celebrated winners by spreading his arms wide, holding up a fist or gesturing to his friends and family.

Willis did give Federer some trouble with his unorthodox game, using a single-handed backhand slice, angled drop shots and lobs. But Federer never got rattled and played his usual grass-court game.

Willis never broke Federer, though he did have two break points. Federer converted five of his 12 break point chances.

Federer enjoyed the moment, too, letting Willis walk onto the court ahead of him, giving him a warm pat and embrace at the net at the end of the match, and walking off side-by-side with him.

“As I was playing, I was thinking about the match,” Federer said. “I was thinking, ‘This is definitely one of the matches I’ll remember,’ because I start forgetting some. I’ll remember most of the Centre Court matches here at Wimbledon, but this one will stand out because it’s that special and probably not going to happen again for me to play against a guy 770 in the world.”

Earlier, two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic won his 30th straight match at a major tournament, sweeping into the third round with a clinical 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory over Adrian Mannarino.

The win gave Djokovic sole ownership of third place on the all-time list for most consecutive victories in Grand Slam play. Only Rod Laver with 31 and Don Budge with 37 have won more in a row.

Asked whether he was surprised to reach the 30-match mark, Djokovic said: “No, not so much, because I do have lots of expectations for myself.”

“But I’m very grateful obviously for the fact I’m able to play on such a high level consistently in the Grand Slam tournaments that matter the most in our sport,” he added. “Definitely that is a stat that I’m very proud of.”

Djokovic hasn’t lost a Grand Slam match since falling to Stan Wawrinka in the 2015 French Open final. He hasn’t dropped a set so far this week as he bids for a fourth Wimbledon title, fifth straight Grand Slam championship and 13th major overall.

Third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, who reached the women’s final here in 2012, overwhelmed Kateryna Kozlova 6-2, 6-1 in just over an hour to move into the second round.

Radwanska used her clever all-court game to thoroughly dominate the 97th-ranked Ukrainian, who was making her main draw debut at Wimbledon and has never won a Grand Slam match. Radwanska won the first four games and was always in control.

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