Roger Federer last night paid tribute to new British tennis hero Marcus Willis with the seven-times Wimbledon champion admitting he was “relieved” to win the match against the player ranked 772nd in the world.
Although the Swiss was able to progress to the third round in straight sets, he said: “My approach was that I was playing a top-50 guy because that’s how he is now.
“It can’t have been easy for him to go out and play a decent match on the Centre Court, that was a lot of pressure but I thought he handled it great.”
Willis has been the talk of SW19 since the opening day when he beat Ricardas Berankis, ranked 718 places above him, and the story emerged about how he was on the verge of quitting tennis until a girl he met in a bar told him he was an “idiot” and talked him out of it.
“His story is gold,” Federer added, “and I hope it gets respected.
“It would be easy to just use it, chew it up and then throw it away but he’s got a life after this. He’s got a career after this.”
Always a hugely popular champion, Federer was asked if he had ever received less support from a Wimbledon crowd.
“I don’t know,” he said with a smile. “I’m sure I got less back in 1999 when I was the wild card for Court 8 and lost in five sets.
“Maybe there were a hundred people. There wasn’t much clapping.
“I thought I got my fair share of support today but he deserved more.
“And I have to say this is definitely one of the matches I’ll remember in my career because I’m starting to forget some. This one stands out because it’s that special.”
Willis admitted it had all been “a bit of a blur”.
First there was the standing ovation when he entered the arena
“That was amazing. Not my standard Wednesday.” Then came the warm-up: “I did look up twice as I bounced the ball and saw Roger Federer. It was surreal.”
The start of the match had been “overwhelming” for Willis due to the quality of the opposition.
“Roger’s class, he put me under the cosh,” said the 25-year-old from Slough.
“But I remember a point when I lobbed him. That was special.”
Willis admitted that he’d underachieved in the past but insisted: “I want to be here. This is where I want to play tennis. I’m good enough.”