Marcus Willis' Roger Federer lob takes rightful place in Wimbledon folklore

"You haven't asked me what it was like playing Roger Federer on Centre Court yet, is that coming up?" says last year's surprise Wimbledon star Marcus Willis, giggling a little midway through being interviewed.

"I suppose I have answered that one before, yeah -- it's in the FAQs!"

Willis is cheeky, that's for sure, and never far from having a bit of fun, whether he is poking at an interviewer or engaging with fans while on court. That's why his story -- THE story -- of last year's Championships was so compelling.

Not only did the then-world No. 772 battle his way through six rounds of qualifying and knock out Ricardas Berankis -- then-world No. 54 -- to earn a meeting with Federer in round two, but he did it with a joie de vivre that so often seems to be missing from professional tennis.

The point-winning backhand lob he hit over Federer in the third game of his straight sets defeat last June was symbolic of that, the chutzpah even bringing a smile to the face of the great Swiss, who tapped his racket in appreciation before the ball even landed behind him.

"I meet things full on, that's how I approach life," Willis says. "It's not that some things aren't daunting and scary and difficult, but I try to make the most of it and enjoy it."

Nearly a year on, Willis' approach hasn't changed, although the spotlight on him has dimmed. The biggest changes have come in his personal life: he has married girlfriend Jenny and become a father to daughter Martha May. He has also rediscovered his tennis ambition, with a place in the world's top 100 now his target.

"I've done it all in a year -- I'd have to work hard to top that!" he says, rolling into another wry remark. "Dunno if I'm ready for another baby though, if I'm honest -- I quite enjoy my sleep when I've got it."

Still ranked down at No. 387 -- the highest he has been since 2015 -- there is a lot of work to do, but the British No. 8 is a different guy to the out-of-shape one who was utterly disillusioned with playing tennis before he fell in love with Jenny in February last year.

"I don't think it will ever sink in completely, what happened," he says. "It happened very fast and it's been very positive on and off the court.

"Before I met my wife I was about to get a job, potentially move to America and probably never play again.

"Now I'm at the stage where I can knuckle down and focus on my tennis for the next few years, with the belief that I can play with the top guys. Looking back is nice but we have had to manage it, move on and look to the future."

Willis has donated his kit from the big day to the Wimbledon museum and said he has the headband he wore to play Federer 'somewhere'. He has a couple of international newspapers that were given to him at the time, too, and a virtual scrapbook -- thanks to the internet.

"It'll be awesome in 30 or 40 years' time to show my kids and grandkids, replay the YouTube clips," he says. "Hopefully, I will have a bit more to show them by then."

Failing to move his focus on from a fairytale befitting of Hollywood would be dangerous for Willis' tennis, and it's not like the 26-year-old can make a career of that alone.

He has spent the last year trying to build on the Wimbledon success that brought him £50,000 in prize money and features in celebrity magazine Hello!, but there have been bumps in the road.

Injury was the initial problem, with a hernia largely responsible for Willis being absent from the men's tour for nearly four months. "It was a bit annoying because I wanted to continue the momentum," he says. "I didn't want to continue all the media stuff, I wanted to get back."

He was fit enough -- and his story still sufficiently topical -- for him to accept an invite last August to play world team tennis for the New York Empires, alongside Andy Roddick, and went on to win a Futures tournament in Kuwait last November.

But he has only made one final since at that level -- the lowest in men's professional tennis -- and didn't make it through qualifying at Surbiton in his first grass tournament of 2017.

Willis' story may have been described as "gold" by Federer, and he is still recognised sometimes in public, but tennis is no get-rich-quick gameshow. "I'm nudging along," he says. "The cost of living and playing is really high so if I can keep myself and my family afloat for the next few years then I'm doing a good job."

There are certainly players competing at Futures level worse off, and he insisted personal sponsorship offers haven't dried up; he also has the possibility of adding another chapter to his story at Wimbledon.

One of the many benefits of making a splash at The Championships is the potential impact on the All England Club's wild card committee. When they meet on June 20 they will consider a range of factors for those below the ranking thresholds, and being a British player who will attract a high and positive profile is definitely in Willis' favour.

"When I sent my [wild card] request, the All England Club replied saying congratulations again and sent the [club's official] calendar for this year," he says. "I'm February, there's a photo of me, and I've been invited there a couple of times and played a bit of doubles with some of the members. It's a lovely club and I always look forward to playing there."

Willis would need a wild card just to get into qualifying but he would be disappointed if his British ranking didn't give him that. "I'm waiting for that meeting," he says. "To get a wild card into the main draw would be a dream come true, amazing. But if I don't, I'll try to qualify -- and I believe I can do it again."

Having to go through pre-qualifying might seem a bit harsh, but what a twist to the story it would be if Willis successfully battled his way into the first round again.

The vocal band of fans who followed him at Wimbledon last year would add even more colour to any return he makes, and he is an advocate of more banter at matches "rather than a round of applause here and there".

History has a tendency not to repeat itself for outsiders like Willis and hoping for anything approaching last year's heroics might be a bit much to ask. But if he can breathe a little more fresh air into the grand old tournament, it will be all the better for it.