This article is appearing in the August 2015 issue of Australian Tennis Magazine. Subscribe now!
Three days before Wimbledon began, John Millman was still finding his bearings at the All England Club. It was his first trip inside the grounds of the most historic Grand Slam venue and the closest he’d come until then was bypassing the main gates on the way to qualifying.
But in that setting, the tennis centre in nearby Roehampton, Millman had played three superb matches to earn his place in Wimbledon’s main draw. “It’s such a special tournament. And you dream of playing not at the Bank of England Tennis Club, you dream of playing on site,” he said.
Earning his chances seems very much the Millman way – and so too is being grateful to those who have contributed to them. Having invested the hard work to gain a special pass into the game’s most coveted courts, Millman was soon booking a ticket for his parents, Ron and Shona, to join him there.
“I get a bit of a pay day this week,” said the beaming Queenslander, explaining that he was happily footing the bill for his parents’ last-minute flight to London. “It’s the least I can do for my parents, they’ve been a great support to me. Never pushed me one way or the other with my tennis, just wanted me to be happy and enjoy myself and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
That uncomplicated sentiment pointed to the qualities that have made the 26-year-old one of the most likeable young men in tennis, many noting his careful way of acknowledging opponents and taking the time to painstakingly thank officials, ballkids and other staff at tournaments.
He’s also determined to make the most of every opportunity, meaning Millman was unfazed when the Wimbledon draw pitted him against No.19 seed Tommy Robredo in the first round. “These are the matches you want to play,” he said ahead of his meeting with the former world No.5. “You want to test yourself against some of the better players and Tommy’s one of them.”
It proved just the right attitude, Millman taking only 88 minutes to dismantle the vastly more experienced Robredo in straight sets. “It’s fantastic. I probably couldn’t have gone out there given the conditions and given the moment and played any better,” he said. “I was seeing it big right from the start and never backed off and really backed myself, and that was the key.
“It was just special for me.”
By the time he took to the court for his second round against Australian Open 2006 finalist Marcos Baghdatis, it was more than Ron and Shona Millman who were taken in by the bighearted Aussie.
With the packed courtside crowd including many fans proudly sporting green and gold, Millman fought hard for just under three-and-a-half hours. While the Australian Open 2006 finalist eventually gained the upper hand with a 6-7(5) 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 victory, Millman knew there were many positives to be taken from the most successful period in his career.
“I was loving playing on the grass here and it’s extremely upsetting that it’s over,” he said. “But I really did leave it out there and, at the end of the day, I got beaten by the experience and the talent of Marcos Baghdatis.”
It helped to know that there were so many supporters cheering him along, Millman characteristically taking the time to carefully acknowledge them. “Just as I love all the support I have from all over the world. I’m extremely humbled to get messages of support and to have so many people that support me,” said Millman. “I’ve always tried to tell them how thankful I am.”
There was also impressive numbers adding up in other ways. The best run of Millman’s career earned him £47,000 – close to $100,000 in Australian figures. More important than that were the rankings points, the Queenslander having at last fought his way inside the world’s top 100. When the post-Wimbledon rankings were released, he was the sixth-ranked Australian man at world No.98.
With that, comes the opportunity to build on success. By maintaining that ranking, Millman will receive direct entry into next month’s US Open and with his Wimbledon breakthrough, that’s exactly where he believes he belongs. “It just puts the fire in the belly. It gives you the desire to play in these types of tournaments,” he said. “You want to be playing main draws of Slams.”
You could argue that no more player is more deserving, Millman having worked harder than most to even exist on tour, let alone thrive on it.
Mid-2013 the Queenslander gave up a wildcard to compete in the French Open knowing that a shoulder injury wouldn’t allow him to make the most of it. Soon after, he was undergoing surgery on that shoulder for a second time and Millman admitted there was a time when a return to high-level tennis seemed unlikely.
“Maybe when I did my shoulder, I was out for 12 months. (It was) a really significant shoulder surgery. I didn’t maybe think it was possible (to return), but now I’m here and I couldn’t think of any place better to be.”
Nor can he think of a better time to make his rise. Millman was thrilled to contest the main draw of the 2015 Championships alongside 15 other Australian players – the most since 2000, when there were 14 Aussies in action. “I’m proud to join the strong Australian contingent here,” he said. “Australian tennis hasn’t been this strong for a very long time so it’s a real big buzz, everybody pushing each other along. There’s a really good feeling right now.”
Having contributed to that positive sentiment, Millman should know. Soon after Wimbledon, he travelled to Darwin to serve as hitting partner for the Australian Davis Cup team contesting the World Group quarterfinal against Kazakhstan. No doubt he relished the opportunity to absorb important lessons from legendary coaches and team-mates.
At the same time, having found his place, Millman is very much forging his own way forward.