June 29, 2017 / 6:46 PM / a month ago

Tennis - Willis out but qualifier Ward could be Wimbledon's new folk hero

3 Min Read

Britain Tennis - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Wimbledon, England - 29/6/16 Great Britain's Marcus Willis during his match against Switzerland's Roger FedererTony O'Brien Picture Supplied by Action Images

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Marcus Willis, last year's home-grown Wimbledon folk hero, will miss out on another adventure in the singles main draw after being knocked out in the final round of the qualifying tournament at Roehampton on Thursday.

Yet the Wimbledon crowds, who were enchanted by Willis's tale in 2016, will have an equally unlikely figure to cheer for next week in the shape of world number 855 Alex Ward, who became the only British player to get through the qualifiers.

Willis, who last year was ranked 772 when he negotiated pre-qualifying, qualifying and a first round match to earn a fairytale Centre Court tie with Roger Federer, this time struggled with injury in his 6-4 6-1 7-6(4) loss to Ukraine's Illya Marchenko.

Yet Ward positioned himself as 2017's answer to Willis as he reached the main draw by beating an equally improbable path to the two-week grand slam that starts on Monday, culminating in a shock final qualifying round victory over Teymuraz Gabashvili.

The Russian was ranked 679 places higher on the ATP computer than Ward but the 27-year-old Englishman still prevailed 6-7(3) 6-4 7-6(6) 6-1.

Ward could not hide his delight at his unlikely progress. He had lost in the final round of pre-qualifying only to be granted a wildcard to take part in the qualifying event.

Sidelined for months with a wrist injury after being a wild card entrant in last year's Wimbledon, and seeing his ranking plummet by more than 600 places, Ward is hoping now for a big show court date like the one Willis enjoyed.

"I'd like to play one of the big names. That would be brilliant," Ward told Wimbledon.com after his remarkable qualifying run this week had ended a sequence of seven straight losses.

"It's amazing to qualify. I can't believe it really. It will mean everything to return to Wimbledon, especially having qualified. I feel like I really deserve my place there."

Willis, though, was left disappointed after he took a tumble in the second set against the world number 117 Marchenko. He had to have his leg heavily strapped before succumbing in straight sets.

Wimbledon will also welcome back two qualifiers responsible for a couple of the event's biggest sensations in previous editions.

Czech Lukas Rosol, who defeated Rafael Nadal in 2012, and Ukraine's Sergiy Stakhovsky, conqueror of the then champion Roger Federer the following year, both negotiated their final qualifying hurdles.

Rosol beat Barbadian Darian King 6-4 3-6 6-3 6-4 while Stakhovsky defeated Japan's Tatsuma Ito 6-3 6-7(2) 6-7(6) 6-4 8-6.

Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Alan Baldwin

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