Albano Olivetti and Marcus Willis: The Two That Fought The Odds To Achieve Their Wimbledon Dream
Adam Addicott, Tennis Atlantic
Everybody loves an underdog story and the men’s Wimbledon qualifying draw saw two players’ dreams turn into a reality.
On one end of the spectrum, there is British world No.775 Marcus Willis, a player who has spent most of his year working as a coach at the Warwick Boat Club in England. The 25-year-old has been ranked as high as 322nd in the world (2014) and currently has eight Futures under his name. Then on the other side is Albano Olivetti, a fast-serving Frenchman who stepped away from the tour for 18 months following an injury sustained from a car accident. The two are very different men, but their achievement within the past week are jointly remarkable.
British No.23 Willis came through six qualifying matches to reach his maiden main draw. On his way, he stunned fourth seed Yuichi Sugita in three sets. Then the 25-year-old followed up on the milestone win with back-to-back triumphs over Russian players Andrey Rublev and Daniil Medvedev. Incredibly, Willis achieved the spectacular run in only his second competitive event of the year and his first since a Tunisian Futures event in January due to injury.
“I am absolutely delighted to win and to qualify for Wimbledon. It’s a victory for everyone who had believed in me and stuck by me throughout,” he said earlier in the week.
“I can’t wait to get to the practice courts at Wimbledon. It will be a special feeling, but I’m just going to keep my head down and rest up before next week.”
On Monday Willis will become the lowest rank player to feature in the 128-player draw without the use of a protected ranking since India’s Mahesh Bhupathi received a wildcard in 2000. He is now guaranteed at least £30,000 in money, which is almost a third on his entire career earnings.
If it wasn’t for a woman called Jennifer, this underdog story would have never happened for Willis. He was on the verge of been in America but was persuaded to halt his American plans and continue his competitive career.
“I met a girl, Jennifer, who basically told me that I was an idiot and that I should keep going. I’m very grateful for her.” The 25-year-old told atpworldtour.com.
Besides Willis’ British triumph, Olivetti has his own French fairytale. Bursting onto the scene in 2012 when he stunned world No.8 Mardy Fish to reach the quarter-finals of the Marseille Open, the Frenchman has shown glimmers of his talent. In May 2014 he achieved a ranking best of 161st before a car accident ruined his momentum on the tour. As a result of the accident, Olivetti had to undergo a procedure to treat a cervical hernia as he missed the entire 2015 season.
Returning to action in January this year, the 24-year-old has clinched two Challenger titles in the doubles, but he has had minimal luck in the singles. This dry run ended on the Wimbledon grass. Using his protected ranking to enter qualifying, he defeated unseeded players Andre Ghem, Gregoire Barrere and Edward Corris to reach his first Wimbledon main draw. The trio of wins has made Olivetti the lowest ranked player to qualify for a grand slam since world No.1122 Mark Knowles at the 1998 Wimbledon Championships.
The achievements of Willis and Olivetti shows why the qualifying draws are so vital to the lower ranked players. They travel around the world to the strangest places in the hope that they can achieve their dream. It is a demanding challenge that takes its toll on players in numerous ways, physically, mentally and financially. Life in the lower class section of tennis isn’t pleasant, but it doesn’t mean that their dreams won’t come true no matter how unlikely they may seem.
Full list of Wimbledon Qualifiers