Adversity Aside, Millman Finding His Stride
Before the US Open began, Australian John Millman joined former World No. 1 Andy Murray for a practice session inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, the biggest tennis-only stadium in the world. After their hit, they tried launching 20 to 30 balls toward the scoreboard at the top of the stadium. The Budapest finalist had no luck, missing to the right. The 6’0” right-hander didn’t necessarily expect to be back on that court for a match at the year’s final Grand Slam.
But now, that looks like a near certainty. The Aussie defeated Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin on Saturday to reach the fourth round at a major for the first time. His reward? A meeting against five-time champion Roger Federer.
“I’ve always had confidence with my game and the longer my career has progressed, the more comfortable I’ve felt,” Millman told ATPWorldTour.com. “But to be honest with you, coming into this tournament, my expectations were pretty low. So maybe the time I thought I was going to be playing on Ashe was that practice session I had with Andy.”
Millman was forced to withdraw from his first-round qualifying match in Cincinnati in August due to a back complaint, and he lost in the first round at Winston-Salem the week before Flushing Meadows. But adversity is nothing new for the 29-year-old. In a way, it’s been intertwined in his journey.
Early on in his career, Millman underwent a shoulder repair and he would need a shoulder reconstruction in 2013. Last February, he underwent groin surgery. That latest operation was a devastating blow considering that in 2016, Millman had ascended to what was then his career-best ATP Ranking of No. 60.
“[I had] a lot of moments of doubt, as there has been every time I’ve come back from surgery with a couple shoulders and the groin, a lot of moments of doubt. It’s tricky, because tennis on the men’s side at the moment — I only mention the men because I’m on the men’s tour — it’s so competitive right now,” Millman said. “There are so many good players, and sometimes we don’t see that because we see all our top players a little bit. But you don’t really understand the depth that there is out there and if you’re not fully functioning and firing on all cylinders, you won’t get back to the level and that’s a tough feeling. That’s tough to fight back from.”
But like he always has, the Brisbane native has chipped away. Last October, Millman dropped to World No. 218. If nothing else, his focus was on his health, preventing injuries, and maintaining a strong diet. Less than 11 months later, he’s in the second week of a Grand Slam and poised to surpass his career-high ranking of No. 49.
Watch Interview With Millman After A Recent ATP Challenger Tour Victory:
This comeback has been especially difficult, as the Aussie bases much of his game on his movement. And what does a groin injury inhibit? Movement.
“I like to extend points and really use my legs to keep myself in the battle, and that’s tough. But really happy that I managed to get back,” Millman said. “I had a great surgeon, a great team around me that really helped me out and now I’m back here and playing some of my best tennis. It’s a satisfying feeling.
“I’ve gotten better as this tournament has progressed and I feel as if I’m playing some good tennis and I really do feel I deserve my spot there. You have to win three matches, I’ve done that, and I’ve given myself an opportunity to put myself in a big match on the big stage.”
When Millman takes the court against Federer on Monday, there will be a sense of pride, for sure. But the Aussie says that it’s not all about him. It’s about everyone who has supported him through his highs and his lows. He bears all of those people in his mind when he goes out to do battle, and Millman will try to make them proud.
Millman has played the second seed once before, pushing the Swiss star to three sets in Brisbane three years ago. And if they are placed on Arthur Ashe Stadium, keep in mind that the last time Millman was on that court, he was thinking about launching balls toward the sky, not playing a match. “If you can get the win on Ashe and the adrenaline’s pumping, maybe you can touch it,” he said.
It’s safe to say if Millman is able to shock the world and spring the upset of the tournament, he’ll certainly give it a go.