Melbourne, Australia, 11 January 2024 | Dan Imhoff

John Millman does not consider himself an overly emotional type.

While renowned for his stoicism on court and a tendency to pile positivity on those around him, a moment of tribulation just before Christmas a decade ago proved the exception.

It was ultimately a pivotal point in a career that spanned more than 15 years.

Millman’s most famous triumph over Roger Federer at Flushing Meadows, his near-upset of the 20-time major champion at Rod Laver Arena 16 months later and that sole tour singles trophy in the midst of the pandemic would have never happened.

On Thursday, the curtain fell on the 34-year-old’s playing days on Court 3 at Melbourne Park when he bowed out to world No.118 Alex Molcan in the second round of the men’s qualifying singles competition at Australian Open 2024.

> READ: Millman announces retirement

A stalwart of Australian tennis widely revered for maximising every skerrick of his ability and for having doggedly picked himself back up off the canvas after each injury setback, Millman’s tennis journey was certainly altogether different had he not reached a low point and broken down to his mum, Shona, at home in Brisbane in December 2013.

“After my second shoulder surgery I wasn’t entirely sure if I was going to play tennis again,” Millman said. “I was trying a bit of work in the city, not to do with tennis … I was probably four, five months post-surgery and we had a Christmas work party actually and it just hit me that I was pretty sad, pretty upset with things.

“I thought that I had more potential to give and I thought I could go a little bit more, but there were a lot of doubts. It was that night I spoke to Mum. I’m not an emotional guy, I got emotional that night.”

Millman decided he had to give it one more shot so as not to be racked with regret.

Having thrown himself into the necessary rehabilitation he was again free of pain, but trust in his body was only half the battle.

It all hinged on one trip to California where he had entered three events. He was down to his last $6000.

“If I had no results, that was it. I had no more money left,” Millman said. “I won back-to-back Challengers and within nine to 10 months of that moment, coming from no ranking, I was top 100 at Wimbledon the next year.”

The widely popular Queenslander eventually climbed as high as world No.33 in 2018, soon after his victory over then No.2 and reigning Australian Open champion Federer to reach the US Open quarterfinals, his best result at a major.

Before the rowdy, packed stands of Arthur Ashe Stadium under lights, it marked the first time he had triumphed over a top-10 opponent.

“I was down a set and 5-3. Probably if I lose that set we’re not here talking about that one, but I managed to turn it around,” Millman said. “It was very humid, very similar to the conditions I’m used to back home in Brisbane.

“I think I probably that night handled them a little bit better. It also helped that inadvertently Roger had always been really giving in his time with me. I’d hit with him multiple times after I played him in Brisbane, where we had a pretty good match … For me, it’s still Roger, one of your heroes, but maybe that aura wasn’t there just because I was a little bit more familiar with him.”

New York crowds – particularly at Arthur Ashe Stadium – were notoriously chatty and distracted, more concerned with collecting social media content from their outing, Millman said.

That was unless you gave them reason to pay attention.

“Once I saw that the crowd were engaged and could see something happening it almost gave me a belief even though they weren’t really going for me,” Millman said. “Roger had to have a day where he wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but then you still have to hold your nerve and close it out, which is something that I didn’t do not long after that.”

The pair’s Grand Slam rematch at Australian Open 2020 came in a night session in the third round, where Millman almost sprung the surprise again only to relinquish a lead in the deciding match tiebreak.

Millman understood as well as anyone just how difficult it was trying to eke out a living in his days outside the top 100, on the road for up to 11 months of the year, separated from loved ones with few opportunities to recharge at home.

“It’s a big sacrifice and I admire all the Australian men and women players who go out there and give it a crack … I know that that prize money is not necessarily there,” he said. “I know it’s probably tougher for the women to go out there and make a living too.”

Studying a Master of Business Administration at Queensland University of Technology is next on the cards, a welcome chance to take a well-earned break and a breather from all things tennis.

While his US Open 2018 upset of Federer was clearly the match for which he would be most remembered, Millman’s breakthrough ATP 500 title in 2020 at Astana, Kazakhstan from his third final also held a special place.

Still, the career high points which he cited first and foremost were whenever he represented his country at Davis Cup and the Olympic Games.

“I love being surrounded by like-minded Australians at the Olympics, different athletes, the best in their fields,” he said. “That Davis Cup environment with Lleyton (Hewitt) at the helm.

“Obviously my relationship with Alex (de Minaur) and the rest of the boys is really strong, so for me they’re the highlights rather than the personal moments. I just hope when it’s all said and done, I know I wasn’t necessarily the most talented player, but I hope people enjoyed the journey and saw that I left it all out there and if they resonate with that and that story then I’ve done my job.”

A passionate supporter of his compatriots, there was no one more excited to watch De Minaur’s United Cup feats on home soil this past week than Millman from the team bench.

Australia’s latest top-10 debutant, De Minaur hailed his retiring countryman as one of the most instrumental figures in his career.

“He’s been one of those guys that has paved the way, showed me exactly what it takes to be a tennis player, and the ultimate professional,” De Minaur said.

“He’s got the values, the work ethic. Everything that you want as a human being and as a tennis player, he’s got it. He’s exactly the person that the younger generation should be looking up to, because if the younger generation can have half of the attitude that Johnny Millman has, there will be a lot of great things coming up.

“He’s gotten the absolute most out of his career … I will definitely miss him on tour, and he’s been a huge part of my career.”

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