On the fourth of September 2018, John Millman captured the biggest scalp of his tennis career. In heavy, humid conditions he managed to get the better of Roger Federer, 3-6 7-5 7-6 7-6. The Australian defended two set points on return in set two, and outlasted the Swiss in over three and a half hours.
Millman is back in New York for the 2019 US Open, hoping to retain his last year’s quarterfinal points (lost to Novak Djokovic). On Thursday, he learned that it won’t be an easy task. The world No.60 will face the three-time US Open champion Rafael Nadal in the first round.
The Australian’s 2019 campaign has been wobbly at best. Millman won consecutive matches at just four tournaments (Syndey, Phoenix Challenger, Wimbledon, and Winston-Salem last week). Should he fail to defend the 360 points earned last year, he might drop down to around No.90 in the ATP Ranking. The Australian fared much better overall in 2018, reaching his only ATP final to date in Budapest. He also took two Challenger titles, in Kyoto and Aix-en-Provence.
Millman has a good track record at the US Open. He boasts a third-round appearance in 2017 (beat Kyrgios and Jaziri) and the aforementioned quarterfinal run. Aside from Federer, that miraculous streak consisted of victories against Mikhail Kukushkin, Fabio Fognini, and Jenson Brooksby (the NextGen American who upset Tomas Berdych Monday).
This time, the opposition will be as tough as can be from the get-go. The Australian played Nadal once, at Wimbledon in 2017, and took just six games in what can only be described as a rout.
What can Millman do?
Roger Federer can struggle at times with players who run fast and get a lot of balls back. Conversely, a stereotypical Nadal beater has a different modus operandi. The Spaniard has been playing great lately, reaching the Wimbledon semifinals and winning the Rogers Cup. (Notably, that was the first time in his career he defended a title outside clay.) When Nadal’s ground game is on point, an opponent needs to overpower and pretty much blow him off the court to have a chance at winning.
This isn’t something John Millman is known for. The Australian is as solid as a rock, but doesn’t have too much to say in terms of attacking. This is a matchup he would rather contest on an even faster hard court. His serve won’t be doing any damage, and Nadal will undoubtedly be better prepared physically than Federer was last year. A scenario where Millman is able to keep the Spaniard on the back foot in a best-of-five set match seems virtually inconceivable. Counterpunching is simply not the way to beat Nadal.
Main Photo from Getty.