This week a lucky bunch of Local Tennis League players got the chance to try out Mizuno's latest range if tennis shoes and met a very special surprise guest!
We made a new friend this week. The man who two years ago caused a sensation at Wimbledon by battling his way through qualifiers and beating seeded player Ricardas Berankis to go on to have a pop at Roger Federer, delighted a lucky bunch of league players by turning out for a hit with them.
Marcus Willis is one of the celebrated pros signed to Mizuno, our tennis shoe partner. Very kindly, he had agreed to take time out of his schedule to join us for a special play test session at Wimbledon Park. It was an appropriate venue, just a stone's throw from where, for three sets at least, he became the darling of the Wimbledon Centre Court crowd. "I won a lot of points," says Marcus cheerfully, "just not the right ones. But that's the real difference between the top players and the rest of us. On the key points they find a way of winning."
That didn't stop Marcus earning 'shot of the tournament' in a BBC poll - a cheeky lob that sent Federer on a futile scuttle to the baseline. After the match, a generous Federer praised his opponent for bringing "unbelievable energy" and a "refreshing personality" to a match it was a "pleasure to play" - and win!
Marcus was kinder with his shots when he joined our players for a series of fun doubles tiebreaks. Saving his trade mark booming serve ("I was a massive fan of Goran Ivanisavic growing up") for another day, he nevertheless gave us a lesson in the kick serve that we will never forget, let alone return.
Marcus is one of the growing band of Tour players who have chosen to play with Mizuno shoes. Like Ivo Karlovic, Marcos Baghdatis, and Wimbledon quarter finalist Kiki Bertens, he benefits from the technical know-how that makes Mizuno shoes stand out. An increasing number of juniors and up-coming players have also chosen the Japanese brand (the second oldest sporting brand in the world) as their preferred option for shoes.
So what did the ten Local Tennis League players make of the shoes? On trial were the Wave Exceed Tour 3 a balanced shoe chosen by Mizuno to suit league play and the kind of hard court most-often found in parks and public facilities. Jane thought the shoes were "fantastic", Vitali praised their stability and Local Tennis Leagues' Mia Loney, an experienced county player, appreciated the shoes being relatively lightweight. "I have quite big feet and sometimes tennis shoes can just be too heavy. I could play straightaway in these".
We will be reporting in more detail in the weeks to come on the technical story behind the Mizuno shoe, but the message is clear: If you want to take your tennis seriously, at whatever level, investing in appropriate footwear is a must.
Thank you to Maya, Bruce, Roger, Vitali, Jane, Paul, Robert, David, Jill and Mia for answering our call for testers. Together, we represented a half dozen or so leagues, from Richmond to Lee Valley. While most had never met before, we clearly had a lot in common - a shared love of tennis and a commitment to building the grass roots of the sport.
That is a commitment shared by Graham Johnson, marketing manager at Mizuno who, with his team, put the kind of energy in putting the event together that even Marcus would be proud of. "Mizuno is passionate about sport - we care about it and the people playing it," says Graham. "Sport is an incredibly important part of people's lives, and what it can achieve for your health and your mental well-being. That's what this partnership is all about."
And a very special thank you to Marcus Willis. Sometimes park tennis is considered the Cinderella end of the sport. If so, we have found our prince charming and the Mizuno shoe fits.