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  • Billy Wooldridge

Marcus Willis: Life after retirement, copying Roger Federer's clothing choice and the building site

For many avid tennis fans, the name Marcus Willis would certainly ring bells. A 2016 second round match at Wimbledon, centre court, against 20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer would be the picture that springs to the mind of many. However there is much more to know about the now retired player who is playing a key role for British tennis players looking to move into the American college system.

The calm laid back behaviour of Willis as he settles back into his chair certainly mirrors his playing style which led to a high of No. 15 in the combined junior world rankings in 2008. ‘You can only focus on the next day in front of you’, said Willis when giving advice for players during low points of their career, ‘it’s natural to be low, take yourself back to what makes you play well and the main people who help you do that.’

The topic of low points is one Willis can certainly give great advice on. The 31-year-old heavily debated retirement in 2016 before his remarkable Wimbledon run. A hamstring injury and a coaching job offer in Philadelphia nearly drew the Brit away from his professional career, but it was his girlfriend, and now wife Jenny Bate, who convinced him to carry on playing. ‘I’m very grateful (to her), she kept me in the country longer than I thought I’d be. I thought I would go to America and coach, but she massively changed things. She was just someone who said why wouldn’t you give it a go.’

Going off her advice, Willis marched onto Wimbledon 2016 where he had to go through six qualifying matches to reach the first round, having to beat notable players on the way such as Andrey Rublev and Daniil Medvedev, currently ranked 5th and 2nd in the world.

‘Pre-qualifying was done over two days so I stayed with a friend who had a flat in Croydon, I didn’t plan to go as far as I did, so when I pre-qualified I had to go and get some new kit from Nike town in London and when I qualified Nike gave me a massive box of clothes to wear.’

A 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 first round win against Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis shocked the All-England Club as Willis contained his nerves to serve out the match. ‘Those last few points were wild. I had a coach, I lost serving for the match two weeks in a row. My coach at the time put me against the wall, screamed at my face, called me all sorts of stuff, but then proceeded to tell me how to deal with these situations when you’re serving out, and I don’t think I got broken whilst serving for a match ever again.’

During Willis’ second round 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 loss to Federer many noticed his clothing choice against the then world No. 3, deciding to wear Federer’s own clothing brand. ‘I actually wanted to wear the new kit, but with the new kit with Nike, the rule is you can’t wear patches with it. I put on the old shirt which I wore in qualifying, I didn’t even realise (it was Roger’s), I had two shirts to choose from it was pot luck really.’

‘Microsoft offered me £50,00 to walk on with a towel but I would’ve been fined by the all-England club, I would’ve made money but it wouldn’t have looked good (in media).’ The evident jokey, calmness oozing from Willis is clear to see, as he treats this interview as just another chilled out conversation.

Since his retirement in March 2021, Willis’ new job is best described by him. ‘I’m the middle man between university and player, we fill them in on what scholarships are available, and try to find the player the best deal we can get.’ The exact same rout world No.12 ranked Brit Cameron Norrie took.

‘College tennis is a very good way at becoming a pro player, when you’re not winning you’re not anybody’s priority. Cam (Norrie) took the opportunity to go to the States and look at him now, I’d encourage any player to do the same.

It’s definitely a side business for me at the moment, it isn’t something I want to do full time. My main thing is coaching at the moment. All my kids are growing up, and there’s a lot of travelling in the college system, that’s one of the reason I stopped (playing).’

During the 2020 lockdown, Willis experienced another new job, well away from the use of a racket and ball. ‘The first lockdown was pretty intense, I went down to my local Tesco but they didn’t have any vacancies. My cousin in Guildford said come stay with us and work for the week (on the building site), I had to get a job very quickly, it was much easier than being a tennis player, quite basic and physical. I enjoyed the physical stuff.’

Looking deeper, there is much more to know about Willis then his remarkable lob against Federer in 2016, from coaching to building. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a British tennis star rise up the rankings from the aid of Willis, whether that’s through the American college system, or even his own coaching.

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