John Millman has choked back tears thanking his loyal fans after the self-confessed tennis “battler” played the final match of his storied 18-year professional career.
The one-time US Open quarter-finalist and fan favourite lost 6-4 6-3 to Slovakia’s Alex Molcan in the second round of Australian Open qualifying on Thursday.
The defeat denied the 34-year-old a chance to bow out on one of Melbourne Park’s big stages during the Open proper – but Millman was typically OK with finishing up on humble court No.3.
“I won my first best-of-five match on this court against Gilles Muller. That one always sticks with me,” he said when asked about his favourite Open memory after debuting back in 2009.
“Just any time the crowd lifted me, which happened a lot, I needed that help.
“I was never the biggest guy or the biggest hitter. I needed every bit of energy and they came in their droves always, even in qualifying.
“It might not seem like much to bow out in qualifying, but it means a lot.”
He may never have been a heavyweight, but Millman still overcame all manner of injuries to forge a special place in the Australian tennis history books with a career-defining fourth-round victory over Roger Federer at the 2018 US Open in New York.
He was the first Australian to topple the Swiss great at a grand slam since Pat Rafter at Roland Garros in 1999, when Federer was still a teenager.
Millman went tantalisingly close to repeating the feat at the 2020 Australian Open, losing in five sets after leading Federer 8-4 in the deciding super-tiebreaker.
“I would have loved to reverse it and actually beaten him here at the Australian Open when I lost in five,” he said.
“But there’s been plenty of highs. That’s probably not the highlight of my career.
“Any time I could dress up in the green and gold in the Davis Cup in particular and Olympic Games, those are the moments that I really enjoyed, and they’re the ones that will probably stick with me.”
In his first of two Olympic appearances, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Millman became the first player in Games history to win a singles match 6-0 6-0, against Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis.
He reached a career-high No.33 in the world in October 2018, won his lone ATP singles title in Kazakhstan in 2020 and played five Davis Cup ties for Australia.
In addition to his stirring run at Flushing Meadows five years ago, where it took Novak Djokovic to stop him, Millman twice made the third round at Melbourne Park and Wimbledon.
But he loves being known as as a people’s champion.
“I wasn’t good enough to win it easy,” Millman said.
“I always had to leave it out there and hopefully I represented that each time I came on court.
“The Aussies got behind me because I was a bit of a battler.”
He walks away from game feeling privileged to have also shared centre court at Flushing Meadows and Wimbledon with grand slam greats Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.
“There were a lot of times where I didn’t think that would be possible,” Millman said with a nod to his multiple career-saving shoulder surgeries.
“I’m very grateful for all the support. I’m grateful for all the sacrifices especially that my family’s made – and friends.
“I’ll go with my head held high that I gave it everything and the body kind of let me down towards the end of my career.
“In a way, I’m happy that was the case because that was what was going to beat me. Not anything else.
“That’s what would make me stop, and it ended up being true.”