John Millman turns sights on Novak Djokovic after Roger Federer shockSeptember 6, 2018
John Millman’s nerveless destruction of Roger Federer may have sent shockwaves through the US Open and wider sporting world yet not everyone was surprised.
The unheralded Australian who almost retired from the sport five years ago and was poised to swap the tennis court for an office job, was languishing at 235 in the world 12 months ago.
Yet the 29-year-old’s mental strength and a will to overcome a multitude of physical problems drove him forward.
Millman has a steeliness seared into his psyche and how it showed during his 3-6, 7-5, 7-6, 7-6 slaying of Federer in the fourth round. The 20-times grand slam winner seemingly aged before everyone’s eyes at an almost disbelieving Flushing Meadows on an evening where the heat and humidity resembled Millman’s home of Brisbane.
Millman, an avid theatre lover who was eager to sample the latest offerings on Broadway during some down time here, revelled on the big stage. He will be there once more on Wednesday with another giant of the game, Novak Djokovic, standing in his way..
“John has had two shoulder surgeries, groin surgery and lost some time so although he is 29 years old , in tennis terms he’s probably only around 25,” the former Australian player Mark Woodforde said.
“His fitness really shone through. He’s in his prime, really. To overcome the severity of those difficulties just highlights his will to win. One of his former coaches told me that if he could just get a run together with no injury concerns, great results like this would follow. You need the belief. There’s no point going out there if that’s not there.
“A lot of players these days only seem to train for three sets but John , as many Australian players do , is a very hard trainer, did a lot of long distance running and it showed out on court.”
Millman spent some time training with Federer earlier this summer, a good clue as to why he looked so comfortable in the biggest game of his career.
Was Federer the author of his own downfall? Perhaps , although nothing should be taken away from Millman’s achievement.
Recent form on the ATP tour have seen a marked upturn in fortunes – this will be his first grand slam quarter-final in the year his ranking reached a career high of 49 and he competed in his first tour final – a defeat to Marco Cecchinato, the French Open semi-finalist, in Budapest.
“It’s probably a bit of a shock to a lot of people,” Millman said. “But, you know, that’s a great thing about tennis, that’s the great thing about sport: there’s always upsets that can happen.”
There is, however, no time to savour the moment. Djokovic awaits in another test in brutally hot and humid conditions. The Serb, like Federer, has struggled in the sun.
“The conditions were incredible,but John is from that climate,” Woodforde said. “It’s one of those when you say thank goodness we are Australians.
“The euphoric reception he received from all around the world, not just back home, has been great. The significance of beating something like just can’t be underestimated.
“I felt sympathy for him after the match. He had just beaten Roger Federer and then was asked about beating someone of a similar stature in Novak. For goodness sake, give the guy a chance to revel in the fact he’s just beaten one of the greatest of all time. One step at a time. This is one heck of an achievement.”
Millman, no matter of the task ahead, is confident. “Can I beat him?” he said. “Yeah. Why not? I think it’s a disservice to who I am if I go out there and don’t have that belief.”