Playing in his first ever Tour level match, the man ranked 772 in world from Slough beat Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis 6-3 6-3 6-4.
Cheered on by a packed court 17, Willis, who came through two matches in pre-qualifying and three rounds of qualifying saved 19 of 20 break points he faced to get across the line in straight sets after just over two hours.
As if the emotion and elation of the result itself wasn’t enough, Willis will now take on seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in round two, after the Swiss beat Argentine Guido Pella in straight sets 7-6(5) 7-6(3) 6-3.
It was a remarkable run, and Willis seemed understandably a little shell-shocked.
“It’s gotten a little bit out of hand. I’m enjoying it. Yeah, keep it rolling. I’ve been coaching at the Warwick Boat Club. I had options in Philadelphia. Nothing was dead set. But I met the girl, she told me not to, so I didn’t. I do what I’m told.”
And on facing Federer?
“Obviously 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. I might not. But I’m going to give everything, as I have the last seven matches.”
Dan Evans, in the same section as Federer and Willis, joined his compatriot in the second round with a battling four set win over German Jan-Lennard Struff – the Brit eventually prevailing 6-3 6-7(6) 7-6(7) 7-5.
After completing his astonishing victory over the unseeded Lithuanian, Willis headed over to court 18 to watch his friend Evans, who overcame a nasty fall in the fourth set to get over the line and record his first main draw win at SW19.
The British No. 3 will face 30th seed Aleksandr Dolgopolov in the next round.
It had been a tough day for the Brits up till that point, with four men from these shores exiting the tournament without even claiming a set.
Kyle Edmund had been tipped to headline the Brits on day one, but fell in straight sets to Adrian Mannarino 6-2 7-5 6-4
26-year-old Wildcard Bryden Klein also bowed out, losing to Nicolas Mahut 7-6(0) 6-4 6-4 and Alex Ward found Belgian 11th seed David Goffin too much to handle on Court 3, going out 6-2 6-3 6-2.
Brit No. 5 James Ward had the honour of opening up Centre Court play for 2016 with Novak Djokovic, but never settled after the losing the opening set 6-0. Having recovered from a break down in the second set, Ward forced a tiebreak but ultimately succumbed in three sets and two hours 6-0, 7-6(3) 6-4.
But the day belonged to Willis – a man who had earned just £230 from professional tennis all year. Whatever happens against Federer on Wednesday at least £50,000 will be heading into his bank account.
Tomorrow’s action will see Andy Murray open his title bid against fellow Brit Liam Broady on Centre Court, while Aljaz Bedene faces France’s seventh seed Richard Gasquet.
Play begins on the outer courts at 11:30am and on the show courts at 1pm BST.
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