By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Fed up with the tanking and tantrums of Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, Australia has embraced John Millman in the wake of the Queensland battler’s stunning win over Roger Federer at the U.S. Open.
Only days after a sulking Kyrgios needed a pep-talk from a chair umpire to beat an unheralded Frenchman, 29-year-old journeyman Millman pulled off an upset for the ages by felling Federer in four sets at Arthur Ashe stadium.
Having never beaten a top-10 player throughout an injury-blighted career, world number 55 Millman now finds himself in a Grand Slam quarter-final against Novak Djokovic, and is the first Australian to reach the last eight at Flushing Meadows since Lleyton Hewitt in 2006.
The achievement of Millman, who stared down an opponent with 20 grand slam titles in two successive tiebreaks to claim victory, was hailed by local media as a watershed moment for one of the nicest guys on tour.
“On court, he recognised that he may have got the great one on a rare night off, or an occasion where an ailment had blunted his brilliance,” Fairfax media said in an analysis.
“That might be the case but Millman deserved every bit of that monumental upset. Bloody oath he did.”
Social media went into overdrive in Australia, with the hashtag #millmania trending on Twitter after his triumph.
“Mate, John Millman,” Australia’s new prime minister Scott Morrison gushed with two thumbs up at a media conference on Wednesday.
“How good is John Millman?”
Kyrgios was sent packing by Federer in the previous round, the Swiss master ensuring yet another disappointingly early Grand Slam exit for Australia’s most hyped player.
Tomic, who Kyrgios succeeded as Australia’s great hope several years ago, was knocked out of qualifying by compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis and accused of tanking the second set after losing it 6-0.
Tomic had been tipped for big things in the wake of his stunning run to the 2011 Wimbledon quarter-finals as an 18-year-old prodigy. Once ranked as high as 17, he now languishes outside the top 150.
Millman’s tennis journey has rarely intersected with Australia’s two highest profile players, who have enjoyed attention and wealth far beyond their achievements.
Overlooked by sponsors and grinding hard on the secondary tours, Millman has held day jobs and had to come back from a shoulder injury that saw his ranking slip outside the top 1,000.
Through it all, he has been the epitome of class, shrugging off his tribulations with a wry sense of humour.
It was perhaps those qualities that prompted Federer to invite him for a hit in Switzerland before Wimbledon.
“We were looking for somebody who was a great guy, who could train hard, maybe was looking also for a place to come to and practise on the grass or hard courts with me before Stuttgart,” Federer said after his loss to Millman.
Millman may hit a brick wall in the form of a revitalised Djokovic in the quarters, but Australian fans can rest assured he will fight to break through it.
They may hope Kyrgios and Tomic will also tune in to watch an Australian player making the most of his talent.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)