Former NFL Pro Bowler Marcellus Wiley knows his tennis pretty well. The now-retired ten-year veteran of the game is now an analyst for ESPN, but is known to hit the tennis ball around Los Angeles, too. At the BNP Paribas Open for the first time, we caught up with the Rafa superfan for a little one-on-one.
BNP Paribas Open: Tell us about your involvement in tennis. You play the game a little bit, don’t you?
Marcellus Wiley: I’m definitely more of a fan than a player. I don’t have many regrets in life, but one of them is not being introduced to this sport at an earlier age. That’s something my fiancé and I are preparing our minds for our children. So when they come up and start looking in my man cave, seeing a basketball jersey for my fiancé and a football jersey for me, I’m going to tear them down right then and say, “no, no, no,” we’re going to put a tennis racquet up there for them. And I hope they’ll gravitate to this sport like I have in the last three or four years. It’s just the most amazing sport, I love it.
BNPPO: Is there one initial thing that sparked your interest?
Wiley: When I first got into tennis, it was a challenge of something new, and something that you aren’t good at is exciting. Realizing how much of my game of football that I could have actually enhanced if I just would have been introduced to tennis – the agility, the awareness, hand-eye coordination. With some of the mechanics, you really have to get into a certain place and react in that moment. There were so many elements of the game that I wished I could’ve translated into football. Also, it feels a lot better when you’re walking off a tennis court as opposed to a football field.
BNPPO: When was the first time you picked up a racquet and really got into playing?
Wiley: I would say three or four years ago. Like anyone else, I was horrible. I couldn’t even keep it on the court, let alone the same facility. From there, I thought, “this is amazing, I suck.” So just being in that world, feeling like I’m seven years old back on a pop-warner football field again, it felt like that at the age of 35 playing tennis. Then I walk off the court and see 60-70 year olds playing doubles, and they’re letting the ball move for them and are hardly moving their bodies. I’m thinking this is something I could do forever and will be good to me.
BNPPO: What’s been your takeaway from seeing this world-class tennis up close?
Wiley: The athlete ego in me is looking for the day when I can actually get on the court with one of these guys. I don’t care if he’s the top-ranked or No. 1,000. I just want to try returning one of their serves. But the realistic side of me respects every part of the game. It’s amazing to see it live and in person. It’s like that when you see John Isner with his serve, and how it’s coming downhill from the top row.
(PHOTO: Marcellus Wiley Instagram photo – in front of Rafa signage)
Read more from Marcellus Wiley – including what his tennis nickname is – AFTER THE JUMP.
(PHOTO: Nick McCarvel talking to Marcellus Wiley)
BNPPO: Imagine trying to return Isner’s serve. Could you do that?
Wiley: If there was a billion dollars on the line, and all I had to do was return one in play, I would be richer. It might take awhile to do, but it’s a completely different world.
BNPPO: What about a favorite player that you follow?
Wiley: Well they call me Roger Novak Nadal. That’s my nickname. [Laughing.] But Rafa is my favorite, he’s the man. He’s someone that has it all, including the passion and enthusiasm. He gets me so pumped. One of the most epic matches that I ever saw was when he had the back spasms against Stan Wawrinka in this year’s Australian Open. I remember being up at 4 a.m. watching the match.
BNPPO: What do you see out on a tennis court that you would see on a football field?
Wiley: A lot of it is mental – the ability to close and dictate to the moment. In football, if you’re wide-open, all you have to do is catch the ball. But some guys get tight and start thinking about what’s next and then drop the ball. Also, when you get to the ball, you still have to do something in that moment. I see a lot of that in tennis, because if you get to the ball and you don’t make it sync with the racquet, then nothing happens.
BNPPO: This is the first time you’ve been at this tournament, right?
Wiley: Yeah. A former classmate told me they were going to this tournament, and I told my fiancée we’re going to. We made our plans to come out here, and the first thing you see are these life size pictures of Novak and Roger. I took a picture with every one of them, huge man crush! [Laughter.] The facilities are pristine; everything is nice from head-to-toe. I also love how the chair umpire says, “thank you,” which is a polite way of saying, “shut up.” [Laughter.]