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Wimbledon Lookahead: British tennis instructor faces Federer

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LONDON – Even Roger Federer appreciates the novelty of the journey that brought his out-of-nowhere opponent to their second-round match at Wimbledon on Wednesday.

Who wouldn’t be fascinated by the tale?

Marcus Willis is a 25-year-old British tennis instructor who charges about $40 an hour for lessons, lives with his parents, is ranked 772nd in the world, and had never played a tour-level – let alone Grand Slam – match until a victory Monday.

He was ready to give up on his goal of becoming a full-time professional player until being persuaded by his new girlfriend to stick with it.

He was the last man invited to a playoff for low-ranked Brits to try to earn a wild-card entry for Wimbledon qualifying, won three matches at that event, then another three in qualifying rounds to get into the main draw at the All England Club.

And now Willis will set foot on the grass of Centre Court, the most hallowed ground in the game, to face Federer, considered by many to be the greatest tennis player in history, owner of seven Wimbledon titles and a record 17 Grand Slam trophies overall.

“There’s a lot of cool things that are part of the story,” Federer said. “Probably don’t even know where to start, to be quite honest.”

Looking at the matchup from a tactical standpoint, the third-seeded Federer said: “He can just go and check out all my matches, and he knows everything about me. He’s got an advantage there.”

Yes, not much video out there of Willis, who is sure to hear plenty of support from his countrymen.

It’s early in the tournament, but he certainly has become the talk of the town.

“Look, I mean, anyone can beat anyone in the draw. Amazing things do happen in sport, sometimes. Obviously Roger’s a massive, massive favorite going into the match. I would expect him to win the match fairly comfortably,” said No. 2-seeded Andy Murray, the 2013 Wimbledon champion.

“But Marcus’ game style, it’s pretty old school,” continued Murray, who got a look at the unheralded player’s strokes when Willis spent some time with Britain’s Davis Cup team as a teen. “He serve-and-volleys a lot. He uses a lot of slice. He hits the ball fairly flat. He has great hands. He has great feel.”

Willis clearly is enjoying the ride and he couldn’t stop smiling when he was asked Monday about the prospect of facing Federer.

“I didn’t think I’d be answering these questions in a million years,” Willis said. “He’s a complete player. He’s a legend of the game. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. But I’ve got to go out and try to beat him.”

Other things to look for Wednesday at Wimbledon:

CROWDED SCHEDULE: Because of rain Tuesday that forced the suspension in progress or complete postponement of a total of 30 matches, the Day 3 schedule is packed with a mix of first- and second-round contests. The bad news: There are more showers in the forecast.

STOSUR-LISICKI: Sam Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, takes a 5-2 career record against Sabine Lisicki into their second-round match. But Lisicki is the one with far more success at Wimbledon, including a run to the 2013 final, one other semifinal appearance, and three more quarterfinals. In Stosur’s 13 previous trips to the All England Club, she has never been past the third round.

Azarenka aims to come back in time for Wimbledon

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MOSCOW — Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka says she is planning to return to competition before Wimbledon.

Azarenka, who was ranked No. 1 for seven months in 2012 and 2013, went on a break last July to have her first child. She had previously been targeting a return at the July 31-Aug. 6 Bank of the West Classic in California.

In a statement on Twitter, the Belarusian says “my training has been progressing well and I feel ready to start competing,” adding that she plans “to play one of the grass court events prior to Wimbledon.”

Wimbledon starts July 3.

Azarenka won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, and has twice reached the Wimbledon semifinals.

Djokovic announces Agassi will coach him at French Open

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ROME —¬†Novak Djokovic is joining forces with Andre Agassi in an effort to return to No. 1.

Djokovic announced Sunday that Agassi will coach him at the French Open, which starts next Sunday.

“I spoke to Andre the last couple weeks on the phone, and we decided to get together in Paris,” Djokovic said. “So he’s going to be there. We’ll see what (the) future brings.

“We are both excited to work together and see where it takes us. We don’t have any long-term commitment. It’s just us trying to get to know each other in Paris a little bit,” Djokovic added. “He will not stay the whole tournament. He’s going to stay only to a certain time, and then we’ll see after that what’s going to happen.”

The second-ranked Djokovic split with longtime coach Marian Vajda and two other team members – fitness coach Gebhard Phil Gritsch, and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic – at the start of the month.

Agassi, who retired in 2006, won eight Grand Slam titles.

Djokovic has won 12 Grand Slams.

“Andre is someone that I have tremendous respect for as a person and as a player,” Djokovic said. “He has been through everything that I’m going through. On the court he understands the game amazingly well. I am enjoying every conversation that I have with him.

“But also, on the other hand, he’s someone that nurtures the family values, philanthropy work. He’s a very humble man, is very educated. He’s a person that can contribute to my life on and off the court a lot. I’m very excited to see what is ahead of us.”

The pairing is the latest in a series of top players working with former standouts, from Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya, and Kei Nishikori and Michael Chang.

Djokovic was coached by Boris Becker the last three seasons, but they split last year.

Vajda started working with Djokovic in 2006.

Djokovic lost his No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray last year after a slump in form following his French Open triumph.

He lost in the third round at Wimbledon, his earliest defeat in a Grand Slam in seven years, lost in the first round at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, reached the final of the U.S. Open, and lost early again at the Australian Open.

Djokovic finished 2016 at No. 2, his current ranking. He’s won only one of his last 11 tournaments.

While Agassi has not coached a top player before, Djokovic said his record as a player and spokesman of the game was enough to convince him.

“He’s a legend of our sport,” Djokovic said. “He’s made a mark in this sport forever. He’s won everything there is to win in tennis.

“He was a revolutionary player because he had this charisma, he had this approach to tennis and to life that was quite different from others. That’s why he was so interesting.”

Agassi has already been offering advice on the phone.

“He’s been definitely following up closely all the matches, the big matches, especially on the TV,” Djokovic said. “So he knows players, he knows everyone that I was playing against in (the) last couple of weeks, so we talked before every match.

Djokovic added, “I already feel like we are very kind of close to each other and creating this nice vibe.”