He wore a headband and the same 'RF' white shirt. But that was as close as world number 772 Marcus Willis got to emulating Roger Federer at Wimbledon overnight.
Federer advanced to the third round with an unspectacular 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Willis. The Brit was never in it. Yet the packed Centre Court crowd loved every minute. They cheered him like he'd just won the tournament when he came out onto court. They went nuts when he won his first point of the match as Federer hit a forehand into the net.
But they really went bonkers in a boisterous British way when the tennis instructor and occasional pro player won a whole game in the third set. Dreaded triple bagel averted. Phew.
— Miguel Cicenia (@TheTennisMole) 29 de junho de 2016
Britain needs a hero this week, perhaps more than ever. Their much-hyped footballers were beaten by the semi-professional natives of a volcano sticking out of the North Atlantic. The nation itself has lurched away from union to isolationism and an uncertain future.
Where to turn as an Englishman or woman in such troubling times? To the oldest of all English narratives. The plucky underdog. The loveable loser.
Willis, in his way, was like George Mallory, the famous British mountaineer who died on Everest in 1924. You just knew the mountain would get him the end, just like the crowd knew Federer would get their man. But that only made the cheers all the louder.
"I thought Marcus brought some unbelievable energy to the court, with his fans, and his play," Federer said with typical grace after the match.
He had energy, all right. But energy is like one of those attributes like "good team player" and "hardworking" that people put on their LinkedIn CVs. Pretty much everyone is all that. At some point, you need talent too.
Willis has his share of talent, but not a very big share. It is, however, to his immense credit that he got here at all. This guy is only the 23rd best tennis player in Britain. The 25-year-old's journey to Wimbledon through two rounds of qualifying was well documented.
So too, was his battle with booze and fitness in his early 20s. They reportedly called him Cartman at one point, a reference to the portly South Park character. He's no cartoon figure now. Though the humour is still there.
"It's amazing. Not my standard Wednesday, that. Next Wednesday might be quite different," Willis said after the match.
Yeah, no kidding.
"This was great. I want more. Got to knuckle down, work harder. I'm just going to keep my head down. All the support has been overwhelming. I'm absolutely exhausted and will get myself a beer."
No one will begrudge him that beer, not least Roger Federer. Fed has won this tournament seven times, but even he had never experienced anything quite like this match.
"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," the Swiss said.
It won't happen for Willis anytime soon either. This time next week, his ranking will likely have skyrocketed to somewhere in the 400s. But he'll probably be teaching kids to play tennis again.Suggest a correction