Hard road to glory for boy from Brisbane
IN A REFLECTIVE moment after changing his life by ambushing Roger Federer at the US Open yesterday, Brisbane's John Millman reckoned his tennis career "hasn't been too easy''.
Two shoulder operations that fully tested the gritty Millman's resolve in continuing his career are now the passport stamps to an achieved sporting dream after his four-set win over Federer, the 20-time Grand Slam title winner.
Millman, 29, from Norman Park in Brisbane's east, started on the lower-level Futures and then Challenger circuits in 2006, winning his first match on the main ATP Tour only in 2013.
The Queenslander likes to tell the story of how during his Futures circuit days in Asia, a pizza delivery man once pulled up at his court and demanded payment from his opponent before the match could continue.
Millman earned $A1.9 million in prizemoney up to the end of 2017, meaning he could have earned more had he got his University of Queensland commerce and law degree instead of slogging through small tournaments in Asia and eastern Europe to get a foothold as a tennis professional.
And at the biggest capacity stadium in world tennis, 23,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, Millman yesterday beat the world's all-time male winner of Grand Slam singles titles as his partner, Fee Mauler, looked on with his supporters.
"I have to control the controllables with my game and one thing I can control is the fight in me,'' Millman said in an internationally televised interview after his 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (7-3) fourth-round win over Federer.
"I've done that through my career. It hasn't been too easy. I've always brought the fight out.
"I'm in a bit of disbelief. I have so much respect for what Roger has done and what he's done for the game. He's a hero of mine.
"He was definitely not as his best, but I'll take it.''
The popular Queenslander will break into the world's top 40 for the first time next week, projected to rise 19 places in the rankings to No. 37 if he goes no further at the US Open, where he plays Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals tomorrow.
He has won $1.4 million in prizemoney so far in this year, with a guaranteed US Open cheque of $662,000 even if he loses his quarter-final.
Google had 6215 matches yesterday for searches of his name and the word "battler''. Make it, former battler.
"This win will give him a higher profile and they will know he's not just a battler,'' said his father Ron proudly after a day's work teaching Year 6 students at Ormiston State School
"He's got skill and he has got plenty of ticker.''
In 2014, while resting after shoulder surgery, Millman worked for some months at a Brisbane financial services business.
"John kept saying that he knew he had more to do in the game and more to prove,'' said Kara Lucas, one of his four sisters.
"It may sound corny, but it was the love of tennis that got him back and also he's such a competitor.
"He is so competitive and if he was going to leave tennis it was going to be on his own terms, every time after injury.''
Millman did not qualify for national junior teams and his early tennis travels as a professional were funded by his parents, Ron and Shona.
"Our priority was always school. He wasn't going to tournaments except in school holidays - he was serious about his education,'' said Ron, a former top Brisbane soccer player.
"It put him out of favour a little with the powers that be (in tennis).
"He wasn't a big kid either.''
Ron Millman took long service leave and travelled to Eastern Europe with his son, straight after he finished Year 12 at Anglican Church Grammar School.
His son has spoken in the past of how he slept at train stations to make ends meet and shared rustic accommodation with other players.
"I was there on the floor with him. I was guarding him while he slept,'' Ron Millman said.
"He's done it tough. But he has a university score for a degree in commerce and law which he was going to be doing if he didn't play tennis overseas."
Millman told The Courier-Mail in January that his increased income in the past two years meant he did not have to budget in his tennis planning the way he once had to.
"I'm not going to lie. It's a nice incentive to push on through injuries and putting in the hard work,'' he said.
Federer is the second top-20 scalp of Millman's career and the year, in which he made and lost his first ATP final in France.
The Brisbane right-hander had shown to himself that he was capable of matching it with the best, taking Grand Slam winners Andy Murray and Federer and world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov to third sets before losing three times at the Brisbane International in 2013, 2015 and 2018.