Millman's moment not enough to topple Murray
Brisbane's John Millman hits a return to Andy Murray of Great Britain during their men's singles match at the Brisbane International tennis tournament. Photo: Reuters
True to his word, John Millman went down flinging leather. Andy Murray was shaken, then finally stirred to put the game Queensland qualifier back in his box at the Brisbane International last night.
Millman, the world 199, had sworn he wasn't going to be a doormat for the US Open and Olympic champion, who has eyes on Grand Slam title No. 2 at the Australian Open.
Nobody really believed him. The injury-prone 23-year-old had to slog it out on the qualifying courts just to make the main draw and found himself facing the world No. 3, fresh off his best year as a professional.
Andy Murray of Great Britain serves during his match against John Millman of Australia on day five of the Brisbane International. Photo: Getty Images
We should have taken more notice. Millman didn't get over the line but in pushing the Scotsman to three sets on Pat Rafter Arena won new fans and new respect as he heads into the Australian Open as a wild card.
For a fleeting moment, with a few true believers daring to dream of an alternate reality, Millmania became infectious. Just as it rumbled into life, Murray resumed command of a match most thought he would win with his eyes closed, icing it 6-1 5-7 6-3 as Millman retreated from a rousing second-set crescendo.
“In my dream I won,” Millman said of his night out. “I've always been one who fights to the last point. I don't get people who tank. I've been brought up that way. I wasn't going to go away in the second set. I gave myself a chance to win it and I took it."
Andy Murray stretched during his match against Brisbane's John Millman. Photo: Reuters
Millman was partly buoyed by his own performance and partly disappointed he couldn't spring the upset, even if Murray is just warming into the new season.
“I hope I can play better. I can't settle to lose matches. You want to win regardless of who you play. Obviously it was early in the season for Andy and it was a good opportunity for me. I tried to take it and fell just short.”
Millman looked every bit the new kid at school by the end of the first set. He poured his soul into every shot but Murray was too savvy, confusing him with canny lobs, accuracy and crisp power to race away with the opener.
True to his word, John Millman went down flinging leather at the Brisbane International. Photo: Reuters
Then the unthinkable. Millman's house of cards was fortified with steel scaffolding. Murray's unforced error count (36 in all) soared and the hometown upstart loosened the shoulders. Believing he belonged, break points came and went until finally he earned a shot at the set.
With coach Gary Stickler in the stands, Millman held his nerve, pumped the fists and took it into an unscheduled decider as Murray went searching for his game.
“He's a lot better than his ranking, that's for sure,” a relieved Murray said afterwards.
Brisbane's John Millman delivers a strong performance in his match against Andy Murray of Great Britain on day five of the Brisbane International at Pat Rafter Arena. Photo: Getty Images
“Tennis right now, the depth is so strong. He started playing great tennis, taking big risks and it was paying off.”
Murray looked well out of sorts during his slide, grabbing at his side at one point and missing the kind of shots he would normally devour like kippers on toast. Even so, he located reserves of class and courage just in time. Such is the difference between the world No. 3 and 199.
It was a watershed night for Millman in every way. It was only his fifth ATP match and he's never even hit a ball at a Grand Slam. He will leave with immense confidence that he can mix it with hardened tour pros and is one step closer to a Davis Cup appearance, a lifelong dream.
On the same night young Queenslander Ash Barty, just 16, made her mark at the Hopman Cup with a 6-0 6-3 demolition of 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, Millman's effort added more evidence to the suggestion there is life yet in Australian tennis.