Draft Day & Fantasy Smoothies, Millman Moves On From Federer Victory
Before John Millman rode from Manhattan to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for his first fourth-round match at a Grand Slam, the Australian was reliving his childhood at his hotel. He was watching Harry Potter.
In a way, it’s fitting. While the Brisbane native is 29 now, he produced magic on Monday evening in Arthur Ashe Stadium, where the first point was struck at 9:17 pm. Millman shocked the world, coming from a set and two set points in the second set down to oust five-time champion Roger Federer at the US Open.
It was by far the biggest win of his career, and his first against an opponent inside the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings. That match ended at 12:51 am on Tuesday morning. And from there, the fun began. After receiving immediate treatment, Millman went to meet the media at around 2:15 am, and then back into the locker room for more treatment: massage, physio work, the whole nine yards.
The World No. 55 arrived back to his hotel at around 3:30 am But Millman could not sleep in. As he first revealed in his on-court interview with ESPN after his victory, he had a fantasy football draft to attend to at 7:00 am, to accommodate friends in three different time zones at the time of the draft.
Then, Millman had a big decision to make, which he would discuss plenty on Tuesday. He had the second pick in the draft. Todd Gurley, a running back for the Los Angeles Rams, was selected first. He’d end up picking Le’veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers. More on that later.
Why wouldn’t he leave that draft in another friend’s hands considering the magnitude of what he achieved? Well, there’s too much at stake. A fantasy smoothie will be delivered to the loser.
Whomever finishes last in Millman’s league will be the subject of plenty of laughs, and not just for losing. The rest of the players in the league will get to pick the nastiest ingredient they could think of to put in a smoothie, and the loser will have to drink it all. Millman has no interest in downing a fantasy smoothie, so he was sure to wake up on time to build the best team he could.
Millman then had a 3:00 pm practice in Flushing Meadows. And after finishing up there, it was time for a 45-minute media tour. Whether he agrees with it or not, Millman is an overnight sensation after dismissing one of the best tennis players ever.
4:19 pm- Millman steps out of the men’s locker room inside Arthur Ashe Stadium and greets a reporter from the Australian Associated Press, giving a fist bump to compatriot Ashleigh Barty.
“I’ve got to control my side of the court,” the Aussie says about his next match against two-time champion Novak Djokovic. That would become a theme of his talks with the media over the course of the next 45 minutes or so. They walk and talk through the corridors of the world’s largest tennis-only stadium before bidding one another adieu.
4:22 pm- Millman walks into an ESPN studio, where he films a feature interview that fans can see on the live broadcast. He kindly says he doesn’t need water, sits on a chair and has a conversation with an ESPN producer.
The fantasy football league now recognised around the world gets another pop, as Millman details his “risky decision” at pick No. 2.
“It probably hasn’t sunk in yet, but the road doesn’t get any easier,” he says.
The producer asks him how it feels to be the biggest sports story in the world today.
“I can’t really believe that’s true,” Millman says. He’ll detail more about his feelings on this as his media tour goes on, but while he knows it was a huge victory, he believes there are more important things in the world than a tennis match.
The 29-year-old is more concerned about complimenting his supporters, speaking of how much their efforts for him over the years mean.
“I try to play for them.”
Reflecting on his journey — Millman has undergone two shoulder surgeries and just last February, groin surgery — he discusses why he didn’t hang up his racquet during any of his low moments. “I thought I had a little bit more improvement left… that’s what drives me each day,” he said.
Millman admits that Djokovic gave him ‘a whipping’ earlier this year at the Fever-Tree Championships, but he is not going into the match worrying about that result. These are hard courts compared to that match on grass, and the conditions are different as well, he notes.
Now that he’s already played in Arthur Ashe Stadium, “I’ll know what to expect a little bit.”
Millman has referenced on multiple occasions feeling like ‘a deer in headlights’ at the beginning of his match against Federer. He wasn’t able to find his top level early on. But he hopes that experience will help him on Wednesday evening.
4:29 pm- ESPN completes his interview and records some panning portrait shots of Millman. The cameramen call for a member of the crew to ignite flashes behind him. And while this is common practice, it’s fitting given it’s Millman’s turn under the spotlight.
4:30 pm- Millman is escorted back through the same corridor, but instead of continuing straight and into the locker room, he makes a right turn, walks through the Player Operations area — where players are called for their matches and can book their practice court, among other things — and all the way outside into the New York humidity in the players’ garden.
4:31 pm- He arrives for an interview with the USTA, as roars from inside the stadium echo outside. It is deep in the third set between 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro and home favourite John Isner.
“When I woke up I was a little tired and a little sore,” Millman says.
The 29-year-old speaks of having to take care of the little things and focusing on the details on Tuesday to best recover for his match in the last eight.
“It’s these moments,” Millman says of what he plays for. Monday night against Federer was one of those moments, and the quarter-finals against Djokovic will be another.
He again references feeling like ‘a deer in headlights’. But that’s no surprise, competing on such a grand stage against a legend of the game. Later on, his discussion of that changes.
“We’re starting to see the best Novak again and that’s a scary thing,” Millman says, discussing how he knows that a large challenge lay in his future.
But then he separates himself from this moment. Millman is living a tennis child’s dream. He just beat a legend. But that in no way defines him. The Aussie tells the interviewer that every Wednesday night back home in Brisbane, he goes to trivia night.
“I’m just your Aussie everyday guy,” he says.
And then, again, the infamous fantasy football league comes up. Millman reflects more deeply on his decision to pick Bell. Does he pick the Steeler or David Johnson, a running back for the Arizona Cardinals? He pondered the fact that Bell does not have a contract so he didn’t know if he would start, but he selected Bell nonetheless.
“I think he’s the best running back in the game,” Millman says.
4:37 pm- The USTA crew disassembles as their interview ends and without skipping a beat, Millman takes a cell phone in his right hand and says “Hello, John speaking!”
Millman is told he would soon go on air on the Alan Jones Breakfast Show. A train from the Long Island Railroad roars in the background as he waits.
4:40 pm- Millman has recently started his interview as roars emanate from Arthur Ashe Stadium, sounding like chants by Argentines supporting Del Potro, who just took the third set against Isner.
4:42 pm- “No nerves whatsoever.” Wait, what? Millman reveals that as he stepped to the line to close out the fourth set tie-break against Federer, he was not feeling the pressure of the moment.
The newly born star brings up how he felt like a deer in headlights at the beginning of the match, and how the stadium is brash and big. But he was able to zone in.
“Yesterday was a special day for me and one that I’ll take for a long time,” Millman said.
It’s clear that the radio host is asking Millman about the Aussie’s game itself. He was not scared of engaging in rallies. He says he has always felt comfortable off the ground with some of the best players in the world. Millman feels in good control of his game at the moment.
“I wish I could serve like Boris [Becker], I loved his serve!”
4:44 pm- Millman speaks of his parents, who are back home in Australia.
“Hopefully they’re proud of me at the end of the day.” That’s a safe bet.
4:45 pm- Millman reflects on how deep the ATP World Tour is and how many tough competitors there are out there. “You’re pretty quickly demoted to those lower tiers,” he says of what happens when you get hurt or struggle to tally victories.
4:47 pm- The quarter-finalist looks back on some of the tougher times in his career. It took him seven years as a professional to earn his maiden tour-level match win. To survive, he says he played team tennis in Germany and Switzerland.
4:48 pm- “I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll try my best to make sure Djokovic has an off return day,” Millman says with a laugh.
4:49 pm- Millman thanks the radio host and begins an interview with a reporter right in front of him from the Courier Mail.
“A Queensland paper, here we go!” Millman is enjoying this, in no way appearing bogged down by the media responsibilities.
He speaks about how he’s a big fan of the Brisbane Broncos, a local rugby team before being asked about his achievement.
“I just played a tennis match, really. I find it maybe a little too much.”
Remember, he’s just your everyday Aussie guy who goes to trivia night on Wednesdays. But with that being said, Millman is not satisfied.
“The train’s not over for me yet,” he says “It’d be a disservice to myself if I stop now.
“It’s going to be incredibly challenging, I can’t stress that enough… It’s going to be so tough, I know that.”
Millman again explains that he can only control what he can control. He’s going to prepare as best he can physically and mentally for Djokovic, and do his best once on the court to perform at his peak abilities.
That means work with the physios, a massage, an ice bath and more treatment before heading back to the hotel for the evening, where he plans on ‘eating good food, recovering and switching off'.
Millman apologises to those at home for not answering, before again being asked about his nerves. He also adds that some friends from home hopped on a plane to make the quarter-finals.
“I felt incredibly calm,” Millman says. “There really wasn’t a sense of nerves.” He admits that’s ‘quite abnormal’.
4:56 pm- Millman says that school was the top priority for him, and that he has built himself a big life outside of tennis. Again, your everyday Aussie. And while he’s become a sensation for Federer, he doesn’t show it. He’s just living in the moment.
4:58 pm- Millman takes a couple of minutes with a reporter from the Guardian Australia and he is on his way.
Every person he came across from the moment he left the locker room to returning, he thanked. Each reporter. Anyone who congratulated him. Not one person was left without a 'thank you'.
5:00 pm- The Australian walks back into the locker room, energetically greeting the security guard outside the door. Millman is just one of the guys, an ‘everyday guy’, who just so happens to be playing the tennis of his life.