Up until 27th June I hadn’t heard of Marcus Willis, I’d be surprised if you had. On 29th June I, along with perhaps millions of others, watched him play Roger Federer (I’m assuming that most of you will have heard of Roger) on the centre court at Wimbledon. In a matter of a few hours Marcus Willis had become a national celebrity. I had seen a clip on the news of him walking through the grounds of Wimbledon and people were clamouring for his autograph. He seemed uncertain of what to do, as if he were a bit of an imposter but eventually he paused to sign some and those that he stopped for seemed genuinely delighted.
I watched him play Federer and he did pretty well. The outcome was never in doubt but he did the best that he could and he was clearly enjoying himself whilst he was there. The previous match on the court had involved Novak Djokovic, our man Marcus had spent some time out in the crowd, watching and simply getting used to being in the heightened atmosphere as it was such a novelty to him.
At the start of the game he seemed like a kid in a sweet shop. The smile of disbelief stayed on his face throughout the match, even when his opponent played such divinely skilful shots that it left everyone bewildered at his talent. The smile was at its broadest though at the point when Marcus won his first game. He had lost the first set 6-0 but at the start of the second he held his service. The crowd were ecstatic, he was beside himself and even Federer offered his own, wry smile.
Perhaps inevitably though, the end came. Marcus Willis, 25, a relatively unknown tennis coach from Wokingham and ranked 272 in the world, was not going to progress to the third round of the world’s greatest tennis tournament. For the first time his smile disappeared as he came close to tears. He walked to the centre of the court to acknowledge the standing ovation of thousands then, after signing a few more autographs at Federer’s side, he disappeared from the stage.
In his teens Marcus had been singled out as someone with potential and had been the recipient of help from the LTA and other bodies who saw that he had potential. He had gold in him. Many wonderful opportunities had been laid before him. He travelled to different parts of the world to compete and to receive coaching but the glamour of the whole process took its toll. He partied too hard and enjoyed the trappings associated with the privileged opportunity that had been extended. Eventually those funding him saw that despite his potential, despite the riches latent in his tennis, he did not have the discipline and tenacity required to succeed and his funding was withdrawn.
In the interview before the match he gave credit to his girlfriend for helping him to see that he still had an opportunity to take up, a dream to pursue. After the match he said, ‘I want more of this’, in other words, I don’t want to sell my dreams cheaply again.
We are dreamers. We have the dreams of God invested in us and through our characters and gifts they become our dreams. They grow stronger as we spend time with their Originator. We get glimpses of them through intimate times with Him and through the encouragement of those around us who help us to identify the ‘gold’ placed within us. They may not be the same as those of Marcus Willis, in fact they are almost certainly wilder, deeper and more beneficial to ourselves, our neighbours and our societies but they are real and they are achievable.
It was encouragement from someone who loves him that spurred Marcus on. Let the encouragement of the One who loves us perfectly spur us on to love and good deeds and the fulfilment of divine dreams. Let’s avoid selling them cheaply for something that appears worthwhile but soon shows its emptiness and let’s draw on the incredible and inexhaustible supply of grace that is continually available to us through faith in Jesus.