Marcus Willis experienced a dream come true on Monday when he beat Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis for a chance to face Roger Federer in the next round.
An unlikely winner, Willis who is ranked world No. 772, came through six qualifying matches to make his Wimbledon debut. Something that was just a pipe dream a few months ago. His journey continues on Wednesday as he faces the the world No. 3-ranked Federer.
“It’s an amazing dream come true. I get to play on a stadium court,” he told ESPN. “This is what I dreamed of when I was younger.”
Although he acknowledges that facing Federer is a tall order, for now he is soaking up every minute of his winning streak.
“I’m going to go out there and try to win the tennis match. I probably won’t,” he said. “But I’m going to give everything, as I have the last seven matches.”
In February, the 25-year-old Briton nearly gave up on his dream, however his girlfriend, Jenny Bate, encouraged him to stick with it.
Here are five facts to know about Bate:
1. Bate Persuaded Willis Not to Retire
It was only a few months ago that Willis was on the verge of leaving his tennis career to become a coach in Philadelphia. However, his newfound love interest convinced him to carry on.
“I had options in Philadelphia. Nothing was dead set. But, yeah, it was an option I had. Don’t know if I would have gone or not,” he said.
“But, yeah, I met the girl. She told me not to, so I didn’t,” Willis told ESPN. “Do what I’m told.”
Five months later, he is the underdog victor at Wimbledon who has picked up thousands, if not millions of fans in the process, including his next opponent, Federer.
“I followed it before I even saw him in my section of the draw,” Federer said, according to ESPN. “It’s one of the best stories in a long time in our sport.”
“He added: “This is the kind of story we need. I’m very excited to be playing him actually.”
Willis, who still lives with his parents, said he has relied on credit cards to stay afloat, which he now intends to pay off with his winnings.
2. They Met at an Ellie Goulding Concert Earlier This Year
Bate told Sports Illustrated it was “instant attraction” when the two met at an Ellie Goulding concert.
“A week after knowing him, he said ‘I’m going to America. I’ve given up on Tennis.’ “Bate said. “So I said, ‘Come on, we believe in you. Give it one more shot. It’s worth it. It’s worth anything … get back in it. ‘ And he did!”
She told reporters that she didn’t do much to change Willis’ mind, according to Sports Illustrated. However it seemed to make an impression on Willis, who credits Bate for convincing him to stay the course.
Bate recounted the story to The New York Times:
We just met, and honestly, it was a blur after that. We went on a little walk to get some fresh air before we’d get a cab. He said, ‘I’m meant to be going to America soon,’ and I was like: ‘What? You can’t go to America.’ The night we met, I said, ‘You’ve just met me; you can’t just move to America.’ I said it jokingly, and then he told me he was a tennis player. I thought, ‘Yeah, right, whatever.’
It didn’t take long for Bate to realize he was telling the truth.
“My brother loves tennis and said to me, ‘this guy is a big deal’, and so I told him we believed in him.”
3. She Is a Dental Surgeon From Warwickshire & Former Beauty Queen
Bate, 30, is from Warwickshire where she is a dental surgeon and mother of two. She was unexpectedly able to come and watch Monday’s match after the equipment in her office broke down.
She tweeted: “Big man above has done it again! Suction problem at work means 12:30 fin and race to see my man play his best tennis yet!”
“I wasn’t even going to be here. The suction just stopped working and usually you just unblock it and you carry on,” she told reporters following the match. “I was not expecting this, that was incredible tennis.”
Bate gushed about Willis’ performance after his victory on Monday and was fully invested during the match, at one point even taking off her shoe to join fans who chanted “Shoes off if you love Willis.”
In 2010, Bate competed in the Miss Professional beauty contest at 24 years old. She vied for a chance to compete in the Miss England finals against 12 other girls. Bate went on to win the title of Miss Professional while training for her dental career. She also took the title Miss Charity.
At the time, Bate spoke of her passion for the dental field, saying: “It is incredibly rewarding to do this work, to free people from pain, and to give them a wonderful smile.”
4. They Have Been Dating for 5 Months
Bate said she and Willis have been together for about five months and Willis’ tennis career has only added excitement to the unexpected romance.
“We’re crazy about each other,” she said. “We wake up every day and just look at each other and burst out laughing, thinking, ‘Is this a dream? Is it real? What next?’ ”
Willis ran over to Bate to hug and kiss her after his victory on Monday, telling her, “I love you”.
5. Willis Said Bate Helped Turn His Life Around
Willis has said he was at a low point when he met Bate.
“I was a bit of a loser,” he told ESPN. “I was overweight. I don’t know. I just looked myself in the mirror, I said, ‘You’re better than this.’ ”
Willis dedicated himself to getting in shape, putting in countless hours at the gym. He also worked on improving his frame of mind.
“I sorted my head out. I was in a bad place and really was at a low point. Time helped and I met a girl and since then it has been very good and my head has been right,” he said.