Jonny O’Mara: ‘In the back of my mind it could have been me’

Arbroath's Jonny O'Mara lost a tight pre-qualifying match to Marcus Willis.Picture: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Arbroath's Jonny O'Mara lost a tight pre-qualifying match to Marcus Willis.Picture: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
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Here’s how the world will turn now, for a while at least: those who’ve encountered Britain’s unlikeliest new tennis star will be urgently sought out. And they’ll be asked: what was Marcus Willis was like before fame struck?

As Willis and his inspirational blonde girlfriend waited for the movie of their lives to be green-lighted, or for The One Show to invite them on for a chat, Jonny O’Mara from Arbroath was yesterday recalling the match the two of them played and wondering: could that have been me?

In order to get to joust with Roger Federer, and to amuse and entertain the Centre Court in defeat, Willis had to beat seven men, including the 21-year-old O’Mara in the second qualifying round.

“It was a really good match, pretty close, and it’s in the back of my mind that it could have been me,” said O’Mara of his 7-5, 6-4 defeat.

“But at the same time, what Marcus went on to do was nothing short of incredible. I know him very well. We played doubles together two or three years ago and won a few titles together. He’s a very talented player and his ability, especially on a grass court, has never been in doubt. He should never have been ranked in the high 700s. He’s much better than that.”

Willis stood at 772 in the rankings when he stood on the other side of the net from seven-times champ Federer, though his journey to the Centre Court will push him up to somewhere around 450. For the pleasure of being whipped in straight sets by the Swiss he took home £50,000.

“We’d played each other before – he’d beaten me and I’d beaten him,” added O’Mara. “We both went into our match believing we could win it and he came out on top on the day. It was played on the Wimbledon practice courts.

“The pre-qualies aren’t open to the public but there were players and coaches milling around so there was a good little atmosphere.

“I’m not saying I should have won, but I had some chances. And I’m certainly not saying I would have gone on to do what Marcus did because he beat some really good players after he beat me.

“We were literally in the shadow on the Centre Court but in reality a million miles away.

“To think that Marcus made that journey in just over two weeks is staggering. What you’ve all seen in the last few days is just Marcus. He’s a little bit quirky but with a great outlook on life. He’s got a bit of the showman in him. He loves entertaining people on and off the court and that really helped him, I think.”

With Andy Murray having just been elected to the ATP Player Council and calling for a hike in prize money for the lower ranks, O’Mara gave an insight into life at the Futures level: “You can’t make a living, it’s as simple as that.

I’m 600 in the world and No 2 in Scotland.

“Relate that to football: if I was the 600th best footballer, I’d be making a lot of money. The money should be increased at this level of tennis and not even to help people make a living, but to enable players to make that progression a little bit easier.”

More cash would obviously help but O’Mara says other Brits have to use the Willis story as motivation to climb up the ladder. “Definitely for me and hopefully all of the British guys, what he’s done should inspire us to start believing it can happen,” he said.