September 04, 2018
John Millman punishes off-key Roger Federer in stunning US Open upset
Roger Federer losing even a set in a major usually sends tremors through the tennis landscape but, after midnight on day eight of the US Open, the five-time champion left his fans speechless when he succumbed in four sets of electric tennis to John Millman, the 29-year-old Australian battler ranked 55 in the world.
They trained together recently in Switzerland and are friends, but it was all business for Millman, who had an unwavering calm about his work for the three hours and 34 minutes it took him to win 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3) and book a place in the quarter-finals against Novak Djokovic.
Millman, whose career has been blighted by injury and who considered quitting the sport in 2011, probably benefitted from his close association with the Swiss, because at no point in an enthralling contest did he look intimidated. Three years ago in his native Brisbane, he took a set off Federer, so he knew what he was capable of – even if few of those present in the Arthur Ashe Stadium were largely unaware of his talent or commitment.
The heat had moved relentlessly up the thermometer again the past couple of days but it was the cloying wetness of the air that most constricted the combatants by the time Federer and Millman went out to complete the fourth round. Millman, against all expectations, blunted the genius of his off-key opponent then drove on to victory with gathering confidence.
Even at the beginning, there were fault lines in Federer’s game. He had progressed with familiar serenity to this point of the tournament but now betrayed nerves and uncertainty. Millman found four aces among 17 clean winners in the second set, and Federer looked bemused.
In the third, disbelief morphed into suspicion of a major upset when Millman soaked up seven aces to prevail in a tough tie-break. When the match went to a second tie-break in the fourth set, few thought Federer would falter again, but he did.
Two Federer double faults put the Australian 4-1 up, with the ball in hand. He went 5-1 and was two points from history. A rasping Federer forehand inched wide on the deuce side, and he needed to hold to stay in the tournament. Surely he would not double-fault a third time? He did not. He stuck away a leaping backhand volley for 2-6 then forced an error from his opponent for 3-6. One ace would do it for Millman – but what clinched it was a final overcooked forehand from Federer.
At nearly 1am in New York, Millman had finally arrived on the big stage of his sport, acknowledged by his conquered foe and applauded by a smattering of supporters among those in the stadium who were not still numb from the result.
“I have so much respect for Roger and what he has done for the game,” Millman said courtside. “Today he definitely was not at his best, but I’ll take it. I felt like a deer in the headlights at the beginning, to be honest with you. Roger had the ball on a string, but I got a bit more aggressive and probably capitalised a bit on Roger having an off-service day.
“The one thing I can control is the fight in me. It’s the one thing I’ve always done throughout my career.”
As for his next challenge, he said, “The last time I played Novak, I got three games off him at Queens. He’s an incredible player and playing such good tennis right now, won at Cincinnati [against Federer in the final].”
Earlier, Djokovic eased past the talented but temperamental Portuguese Joao Sousa in straight sets, after looking close to meltdown in the afternoon heat, for the second time in the tournament. On the evidence of Millman’s performance on Monday evening, the Serb will not be relishing the prospect of another upset, especially if forecasts of continued high temperatures and humidity prove correct.
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