LONDON: Novak Djokovic’s campaign for a third successive Wimbledon title got off to a winning start on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) but he was overshadowed by a new British hero, world number 706 Marcus Willis.
World number one Djokovic cruised to an easy 6-0, 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory over Britain’s James Ward, comfortably demonstrating why his recent French Open triumph allowed him to pass the $100 million prize money barrier.
That staggering sum was put into thrilling perspective courtesy of beefy 25-year-old Willis, nicknamed ‘Cartman’ after the South Park cartoon character and who had earned just $65 in prize money this year before Monday.
The fairytale continues with a likely match-up against seven-time champion Roger Federer and a guaranteed £50,000 ($66,000). Federer scored a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-3 victory over Argentina’s Guido Pella.
Willis defeated Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, ranked 652 places above him, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 out on a raucous Court 17 where fans sung ‘walking in a Willis wonderland’.
The player who makes a living as a club pro and still lives with his parents had been on the verge of quitting in February.
But then he met dentist Jenny Bate, who became his girlfriend, and she persuaded him to have one more shot and not go to Philadelphia where he had been offered a job as a coach.
“She told me not to go, so I didn’t. I do what I’m told,” smiled the tournament sensation.
The gamble has paid off in spectacular style for a man who is the lowest-ranked qualifier to make the second round of a major since Jared Palmer at number 923 at the 1988 US Open.
Willis was last into the pre-qualifying competition for Wimbledon, where he played three matches and then battled through three more ties to book a place in not only his first Grand Slam event but his first main tour competition.
“It’s all surreal, a little bit out of hand,” said a shell-shocked Willis.
Top seed Djokovic, who holds all four majors, goes on to face France’s Adrian Mannarino for a place in the last 32.
“The first nine games were flawless,” said Djokovic, who raced out into a 6-0, 3-0 lead before Ward, ranked at 177, steadied the ship.
Federer, 34, has been runner-up to Djokovic for the last two years and is attempting to become the oldest ever Wimbledon champion in modern times.
Five-time women’s champion Venus Williams battled past Croatian teenager Donna Vekic 7-6 (73), 6-4.
Williams, 36, is the oldest woman in the main draw of this year’s tournament and first won Wimbledon in 2000 when Vekic was just four.
Injured Ivanovic to rest until Olympics
Former world number one Ana Ivanovic was knocked out of Wimbledon in the first round and then revealed she won’t play again until the Olympics to recover from a wrist injury.
The 2008 French Open champion was stunned by Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova, the world 223, losing 6-2, 7-5 to the Grand Slam debutant.
But the 28-year-old Serb blamed only her second opening round loss at the All England Club in 12 visits on a right wrist injury.
“It was very hard to accelerate on my forehand. I tried to do everything possible to be fit and recover and tape it and so on,” said Ivanovic, who reached the semi-finals at the All England Club in 2007.