Year in review: Millman breaks through
Laid low by a second shoulder surgery less than two years ago, John Millman made a spectacular recovery to record his best ever season and crack the world's top 100.
With the tennis season coming to a close, we reflect on the highlights for some of our best-performed players in what was a magnificent year for Australian tennis in 2015.
Australian men’s tennis had its fair share of inspiring stories in 2015.
Perhaps the biggest of those – and most unexpected – was the rise of Queenslander John Millman.
In mid August 2014, Millman was ranked 1,101, taking the early steps in his comeback from a second shoulder surgery. Within 12 months, he had cracked the world’s top 100.
It was one of the most significant and most rapid movements in the rankings among any player in the game and proved that when healthy, the athletic, competitive, hard-working and good-natured player was a force to be reckoned with.
That was obvious as early as his first tournament of the year at the Brisbane International. There Millman reached the second round and then pushed eventual champion Roger Federer to three thrilling sets in front of a passionate home crowd.
Yet it was actually on his least favourite surface of grass that he created the biggest stir.
Qualifying for Wimbledon – the first time he had reached the main draw of a Grand Slam event via qualifying – he went on to make the second round, building a four-match winning streak before falling to 2006 semifinalist Marcos Baghdatis in five.
Rewards followed, including his debut in the top 100 and inclusion in the Davis Cup squad.
And more good form followed as well – not long after Wimbledon, the 26-year-old claimed back-to-back ATP Challenger titles in Lexington and Aptos, pushing him up to a career-high ranking of No.71.
“I’ve always had confidence that my game could be at a pretty good level if I stay fit and healthy and I’ve managed to do so for the majority of this year,” he said.
“So in terms of playing ability I’m at the level I should be, and (I feel) that I do belong at this level.”
After the US Open he enjoyed a successful swing through Asia, winning his opening round match in Shenzhen and qualifying for the China Open in Beijing, where he ultimately reached the second round and served for the match against sixth seed John Isner.
Despite the disappointment of narrowly missing out on what would have been a career-best win, his position in the game was starkly different to that of the previous season, when he was travelling to little-known locations on the third-tier Futures circuit in a bid to get match play and build his ranking.
His rise was recognised by the ATP World Tour, who nominated him as one of four players for the Comeback Player of the Year Award.
“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,” he said.
Now entrenched in the top 100 and with the prospect of a full ATP season ahead of him in 2016, even bigger improvements could lie ahead.