As the world's favourite tennis tournament starts on Monday, MAXINE GORDON meets the York tennis coach who played at Wimbledon – and beat Federer on the doubles court

PLAYING on Centre Court at Wimbledon would be a dream come true for most tennis players. But the first time Marius Barnard stepped out on to the hallowed grass of the game's most famous court in the summer of 1992 there was a snag – his wedding was booked for the second Friday of Wimbledon fortnight, meaning that if he hit a winning streak there would be a big decision to make.

Luckily for fiancée Helen, Marius and his doubles partner had to play the number-one seeds – Australians Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde (known as the Woodies) – and were knocked out in the first round. It meant the wedding the following Friday could go ahead as planned.

And happily for Marius, there was to be a further outing on to Centre Court, this time to play in the quarter finals of the Men’s Doubles tournament in 1994. That match, where he and partner Brent Haygarth lost to Wayne Ferreira and Michael Stich, was the highlight of 13 years as a professional tennis player, specialising for most of that time in doubles play. And during that time, Marius claimed some top scalps.

“In doubles, I beat six number one players: Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Marat Safin, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Marcelo Ríos, Juan Carlos Ferrero."

The win over Federer is a great memory, says South-African born Marius, who settled in York with Helen in 2000 and raised their family: daughter Keira and twins Theo and Hugo.

"When I beat Roger he was ranked 35 in singles. It was June 2000 and a year later he went on to beat Sampras at Wimbledon. He moved into the top ten within two years of our first meeting.

"People are obviously surprised that I beat him, but I guess I always felt I could beat any player in doubles – and he wasn't a legend when I beat him!"

Today, Marius, aged 50, works as a tennis coach at the David Lloyd centre, off Hull Road, and also gives motivational talks to sports players and business people for Locker Room Power, a consulting venture set up by leading tennis coach David Sammel.

When we meet on the outdoor courts of David Lloyd club for a photoshoot, Marius shares with me a folder of black and white photos documenting his early tennis career – including a photo of his first tournament win, aged nine.

But it was very nearly a different story.

Marius grew up in Bellville, a suburb of Cape Town, and was the youngest of six siblings. He had been rugby mad and only focussed on tennis after being dropped to the rugby B team.

Rugby’s loss was tennis’s gain. Aged 16 he was ranked the number one under-16 tennis player in South Africa. The following year he won the under-21 South Africa grass court tournament which gave him entry to junior Wimbledon and an airfare to London.

So what was it like, turning up at Wimbledon, aged just 17? As a child, he had dreamed of playing there and had watched fellow South African player Kevin Curren reach the final (against a triumphant 17-year-old Boris Becker). However, Marius took it all in his stride.

“I was so focussed on playing that I didn’t get overawed. You focus on giving the best you can. You try to ignore the side show. You try to ignore all the people on Centre Court and just try to zone in on what you are trying to do," he says, still with a hint of a South African accent.

The following year, aged 18, he began playing on the professional tour, travelling the world and living a hand-to-mouth existence. If you qualified for a tournament, your hotel costs were met. There was nothing quite like the fear of running out of South African rands to keep you focused and motivated, recalls Marius.

During his pro career, he won six tour titles and reached a best world ranking in doubles of 44, eventually retiring in 2002. His last big win was in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2001. It was especially satisfying because he had been up most of the night with his young daughter Keira. "She was ill and I was walking around the hotel with her trying to get her better. I had about four hours' sleep but had to go out and play. I managed to play really well and we won."

On retiring, he became a tennis coach at the David Lloyd centre when it opened in 2003. The couple's twin sons were born 13 years ago. They both play tennis, including competitively in the York league for David Lloyd.

Marius has been back to Wimbledon many times since his professional days – as a spectator and as a commentator for Radio Wimbledon.

With Wimbledon approaching, Marius has this advice for parents wanting to encourage their kids into tennis.

"Try to make it as much fun as possible. They need to enjoy it. I wouldn't get them into tournaments too soon. Focus on the enjoyment factor.

"Get them to play with family and friends. If they can play with a friend they are always going to enjoy it."

While travelling the world on the professional tennis tour, Marius also studied remotely for a degree in Business Psychology and Management (often having to visit the South African consulate to sit exams). This, he says, alongside his years as a tennis pro and coach, helps him in his new venture as a motivational coach.

So what can tennis teach us in the real world?

Marius reels off a list. "Resilience, building self-belief, team work. And how to change perceptions and control your perceptions. It can help with conquering fear.

"And you have to be honest – you have to make your own line calls. It can teach you about negotiation, what you do when you get a bad call and you have to sort that out.

"You also have to get used to losing. In tennis, you lose a lot. In Wimbledon, 127 people will lose and one person will win. There is a lot of failure and you have to accept defeat. You make mistakes – but you have to learn from them.

"There are lots of lessons you can learn from playing tennis."

Wimbledon starts on Monday, with coverage on the BBC.

To find out more about how to get into tennis, visit:

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