Mag By Craig Gabriel
WHO IS JOHN MILLMAN?
On a late, very late Labour Day Monday night in New York at the US Open a match unfolded that left people that had filled the imposing and intimidating Arthur Ashe Stadium quite bewildered. Roger Federer had come to play a fourth-round match, the same round he lost in last year, against a lanky 29-year-old mild-mannered Australian, John Millman.
This was an oppressive night with the weather conditions; in fact, the day time session had been even worse with the heat and humidity. At night the air was still, like a calm before a storm. Nothing was circulating excepting the small fans alongside the player courtside benches.
Definitely a storm was brewing and the stadium was beginning to hum. Federer had won the first set. He failed to convert two set points in the second despite serving for the set and even double faulted to lose serve. Millman levelled the match. They were holding serve in the third but Federer was playing some atrocious tennis. Some of the worst he has produced in a long time.
The end stats would show he had a staggering 77 unforced errors, ten double faults and a first service percentage at a miserable 49% for the match although at times it dipped to 36%.
Federer had another break point in the third set tiebreak but couldn’t convert. To say the tennis he was playing was uncharacteristic would put it in a good light. He was having a shocker. Millman seemed to be in a zone. Going into the fourth there was a glimmer of hope for Federer fans when he broke for 4-2 but his tennis went from miserable to atrocious as he lost serve immediately and even plopped a sitter overhead into the net.
To the breaker they went, and it was all John Millman the down to earth, humble Queenslander who is a “mate” and who grew up in a family that are just straightforward good people.
He has had a chequered career because of injuries that included two shoulder operations and a groin operation. Time and again he missed off the tour; up and down his tennis went. Just when things were going right, another set back would befall him but Millman with the support team around him, kept believing.
What he achieved on that muggy oppressive New York night justified the belief. The power of the human spirit. He took odd jobs when he wasn’t playing, even working a 9 to 5 job. All that was a far cry away in the fourth set tiebreak.
The points were falling to the Australian – he led 6-1, a last gasp, literally, from Federer who “felt I couldn’t get air” on the court because “there was no circulation at all”, allowed him to pick up two points, but that was it. Millman won 3-6, 7-5, 7-6, 7-6.
His celebration was muted, none of the OTT excitement such a win would normally have displayed and that’s because of who John Millman is. He showed his respect for the master, the man he referred to as his “hero”. There was no rubbing it in.
“I felt a little bit guilty today because he didn’t have his best day and that’s for sure,” Millman said. “I’m very aware he didn’t have a great day at the office. Immediately at the start, I was a deer in the headlights a little bit. It’s a different environment. It’s extremely special.
“This is a little bit new to me, a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam. It’s very new. Our career paths are slightly different and I have so much respect for what he’s done for the game, but I’ll enjoy this moment and will remember it for a very long time.”
He is the first Australian man to reach the quarters of the US Open since Lleyton Hewitt in 2006 but more incredibly he is only the second, and the first since Pat Rafter a fellow Queenslander, to beat Federer at a major – Rafter did it in Federer’s major debut, the first round of Roland Garros in 1999.
It would be hard to find someone say a bad word about the 29 year old who talks about his family as if everyone knows them – his father is known as “Fox”. His mother commented after the result that she was proud of John but added “I also felt a little sorry for Roger, yeah”. That’s just the way the Millmans are.
Federer said: “I love his intensity. I admire a lot when I see how guys like him train, the passion for the game. I love his intensity