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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.

Del Potro beats Dimitrov to win Stockholm Open

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STOCKHOLM (AP) Juan Martin del Potro won his 20th career title Sunday, beating Grigor Dimitrov in a successful title defense at the Stockholm Open.

Del Potro held serve throughout as he won 6-4, 6-2 against Dimitrov while also landing 70 percent of first serves and firing in nine aces.

It was the Argentine’s first title since he beat Jack Sock in last year’s Stockholm final. The two Stockholm wins are del Potro’s only tour titles since he returned in 2016 following chronic wrist problems.

For Dimitrov, it was his fourth final of the year and first defeat. The Bulgarian is now 7-6 in career finals,

Venus ready for return WTA Finals

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SINGAPORE (AP) Venus Williams returns to the year-end WTA Finals for the first time since reaching the 2009 final, and the fifth time overall, starting on Sunday in Singapore.

Williams joins top-ranked Simona Halep of Romania, second-ranked Garbine Muguruza of Spain, third-ranked Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, sixth-ranked Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, seventh-ranked Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia and ninth-ranked Caroline Garcia of France.

They’re all pretty special,” said Williams, of her career appearances in the year-end competition. “It’s the end of the year. Only Top 8 get here. It’s definitely something well earned.”

At 37-years-old, Williams is the third oldest player to qualify for the year-end championships behind a 39-year-old Billie Jean King in 1983, and a 38-year-old Martina Navratilova in 1994.

Williams is the oldest player in this draw with 27-year-old Wozniacki the next oldest.

Having played since 1995, Williams has seen the women’s game advance, saying: “The competition is so much greater. It’s a beautiful change, in fact.”

In 2008, Williams won the WTA Finals title, going 3-0 in the round-robin, and defeating Vera Zvonareva of Russia in the final.

She was also was a semifinalist in her first two appearances in the finals, in 1999 and 2000.

Williams reached two Grand Slam finals this season at the Australian Open, where she lost to what turned out to be an already pregnant younger sister, Serena, and at Wimbledon, where she fell to Muguruza.

Every player but Garcia has a possibility of playing themselves into the year-end No. 1 ranking depending on their result this week. Williams has ranked No. 1 for 11 weeks of her career.

In the round-robin, Williams is situated in the White Group with fellow big-hitters Muguruza and Pliskova, who both ranked No. 1 at some time during this season, and French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

Williams opens the competition against Pliskova on Sunday. The two are tied at one match apiece in their head-to-head.

She holds a 3-2 winning record over Muguruza and is 1-0 over Ostapenko.

“I think my group is more aggressive style players in the group and the other one is more defending,” Pliskova said. “I just like to play better these players.

“I start with Venus tomorrow, so I beat her once from match point and once I lost very close match. This one is open.”