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Wimbledon sensation Marcus Willis can count Roger Federer as a fan

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'Coaching helps be stay grounded' - Willis (2:05)

World number 772 talks to ESPN about how he nearly turned his back on professional tennis. (2:05)

WIMBLEDON, London -- Marcus Willis had earned less than £225 ($292) in prize money this year and considered retiring as a player when qualification for The Championships was little more than a pipedream.

Today he is £50,000 ($66,000) richer, through to the second round and can count his next opponent, the great Roger Federer, as a fan.

Willis, who still lives at home with his parents and is ranked world No.772, came through six qualifying matches to make his Wimbledon debut before dispatching Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, ranked at 54, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 on Monday.

The 25-year-old's victory was greeted by scenes of great celebration that could be heard throughout the grounds, and his story enchanted Federer.

"I followed it before I even saw him in my section of the draw," Federer said. "It's one of the best stories in a long time in our sport.

"This is the kind of story we need. I'm very excited to be playing him, actually."

Federer came through his own first-round match against Guido Pella 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-3, and while questions remain about his longevity at the top of the game, his postmatch focus was on the other end of the tennis spectrum and his meeting with Willis.

"This match is different. It's picked up momentum. People will hear about it," said Federer, the world No.3. "Naturally they're going to support him -- rightfully so, because I think it's a very cool story.

"I saw him play today. He plays well. Plus, he is serve and volleying, which I love to see. He came up with some great, great shots. To beat a guy of Berankis' calibre in straight sets shows you how tough he is.

"It was cool to see how pumped up he was.There's a lot of cool things that are part of the story. I probably don't even know where to start. I just like the idea of him."

Willis has earned most of his living coaching tennis for £30 an hour at the Warwick Boat Club in England and had never played a tour-level match before Monday; he last played a tournament in January in Tunisia.

"It [the Wimbledon adventure] has gotten a little bit out of hand," he said postmatch. "It's quite a nice life, isn't it, really? I haven't experienced this. Goran [Ivanisevic] just came around and shook my hand. He's my hero. He was an inspiration to me, the year he won as a wild card [in 2001]."

Willis was at school when Ivanisevic won Wimbledon and his mum wouldn't tell him the result of the final. He raced home to watch that fairytale triumph, and here conjured one of his own.

So low have his own expectations been that Willis has checked out of his London hotel room every morning since his qualifying run began.

He had even been on the verge of quitting the game in February to take up a coaching position in Philadelphia this summer, before he found love with a new girlfriend.

"She told me not to, so I didn't. Do what I'm told," he said with a smile. The woman in question, a dentist named Jenny Bate, was even able to come and watch after the equipment in her office broke down on Monday morning. "She had to cancel the afternoon patients. It's completely weird. I'm glad she got to see that."

The last man into the wildcard pre-qualifying playoff draw after another player dropped out, Willis had to win three matches just to earn his spot in the main qualifying draw at Roehampton last week.

Now he is set to play on one of the biggest stages of them all against seven-time Wimbledon champion Federer.

"I'm not sure he can play on grass. That's good," joked Willis, who has never even spoken to Federer. "No, it's an amazing dream come true. I get to play on a stadium court. This is what I dreamed of when I was younger.

"I'm going to go out there and try to win the tennis match. I probably won't. But I'm going to give everything, as I have the last seven matches."

Those watching on Wednesday will struggle to be as raucous as the spectators on Court 17 on Monday. Every point won by Willis, every hold of serve, every break, was met with a roar of approval. They even -- bizarrely -- chanted "shoes off, if you love WIllis", waving boots and trainers alike in the air in approval.

"I can't explain that to you," he said. "They wanted to take their shoes off. I put a shoe in the air, as well. Joined along with it. Keeps me relaxed."

Willis hit 43 winners and saved 19 of 20 break points in a stunning display against Berankis. Not bad for a guy nicknamed 'Cartman' after the South Park character, due to his less-than stellar physique, which he puts down to hamstring and knee injuries suffered in the last year.

Indeed, his stunning achievement here is the culmination of three years of hard work with his coach in Surbiton after rediscovering his drive. A talented junior, Willis "got dropped in the real world" and lost his confidence. His lifestyle was not good and he went out too much.

"I was a bit of a loser," he said. "I was overweight. I don't know. I just looked myself in the mirror, I said, 'You're better than this'."

He certainly proved that.