'Cartman' Willis hits Wimbledon jackpot

Britain's Marcus Willis, ranked at 706 and who had made just $65 on tour this year, reached the Wimbledon second round Monday where he could face Roger Federer in a pulsating rags-to-riches saga.

The 25-year-old tennis coach defeated Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, ranked 652 places above him, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

Marcus Willis should have been coaching youngsters and middle aged women for $30 an hour on Monday in the humble surroundings of the Warwick Boat Club in the English midlands.

Instead, the 25-year-old, and ranked at 706 in the world, was playing the real-life hero in a Wimbledon rags-to-riches story which has captured the imagination of the All England Club.

The stoutly-built Willis will meet Roger Federer in the next round on the latest stop of his incredible journey from self-loathing to the verge of retirement to the Centre Court, tennis' most famous arena.

Willis credits a dentist with the turnaround, his girlfriend Jenny Bate who talked him out of quitting when he was at a particular low in February this year. He just had returned from a third-level event in Hammamet in Tunisia where his prize money was paltry $65.

A job offer coaching in Philadelphia awaited him, a convenient way for him to earn a steady living and allow him to escape still living with his parents. But Bate persuaded him to give playing another go. "She told me not to go to the States, so I didn't. I do what I'm told," he smiled.

He squeezed into Wimbledon pre-qualifying in the last slot available where he won three matches and then won three more in last week's full qualifying tournament.

On Monday, he defeated Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, ranked 652 places above him, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 out on a raucous Court 17.

Willis, nicknamed 'Cartman' after the South Park cartoon character's portly physique, hit 43 winners and saved 19 of 20 break points in an astonishing performance.

He is already guaranteed at least £50,000 ($66,000) for becoming the lowest-ranked qualifier to make the second round of a major in 28 years.

Bad decisions

Not bad for a man who had never played a match on the full tour before Monday. "I was a bit of a loser. I was overweight. I was seeing off pints. I just looked myself in the mirror, I said, You're better than this," said Willis as he reflected back on his past struggles.

"When I was a junior, I was talented. I was bigged up a lot. Then I got dropped in the real world. Made some bad decisions. Went out too much. Lifestyle wasn't good. Yeah, didn't have the drive."

Bate, who was watching courtside, admitted she had been desperate for Willis not to give up on his dream.

"I said please don't go to America. Now each day we look at each other and say 'what just happened, what do we do now'," she said.

Willis insists fame will not go to his head. He has stayed at the same hotel every day over the last week — checking out every morning, just in case — and eating the same meal.

"I had tomato, pepper pasta with added chicken on. Really interesting."

Whatever happens against seven-time champion Federer, Willis has already achieved one of his ambitions — meeting 2001 champion Goran Ivanisevic after Monday's match.

But what about tackling the legendary Swiss star on Wednesday? "I don't think I have ever spoken to him. I don't think he was at the Tunisia Futures event this year," said Willis.

If his story sounds like the stuff of Hollywood, then it's already been told in the movie 'Wimbledon' in 2004.

Willis says he is unfamiliar with it, happy to be dealing in the real world and not in fiction.

"People are telling me about it, but I've never seen it. I'm not a massive film watcher. I'm quite fidgety. I'm more of a doer than a watcher."