John Millman entered the Astana Open with a 4-7 record since the resumption of the ATP Tour in August. But the Australian battled hard throughout his week in Nur-Sultan to improve with each match and capture his maiden ATP Tour title.
Millman, who was forced to save two match points in his quarter-final victory against Tommy Paul, is the fifth player to capture an ATP Tour trophy in 2020 after standing a point from elimination. The 31-year-old is also the fifth player to capture his maiden tour-level trophy this season, following in the footsteps of Ugo Humbert (Auckland), Casper Ruud (Buenos Aires), Thiago Seyboth Wild (Santiago) and Miomir Kecmanovic (Kitzbühel).
ATPTour.com caught up with the World No. 45 after his victory to talk about his week in Nur-Sultan, his tough journey to success and the key figures who helped him on his way to his first ATP Tour crown.
What does it mean to you to win your first ATP Tour title?
I am so relieved. I am happy. It has been third time lucky for me. That was my third final and I am just thrilled. There are a lot of people back home that have put in a lot of hard work and I am just glad that I can be the accumulation of that work.
Do you think the experience of playing in two previous finals helped you to get across the line today?
Probably not. It probably builds a bit more pressure. [You put] more pressure on yourself. All week, I have played quite free. I have really enjoyed the conditions here and the hospitality that the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation has shown. It has really motivated me to extend my stay and make the most of this experience. I am glad that I won it today. It would have played on my mind if I hadn’t, but it is always tough when you play against Adrian Mannarino.
When you faced two match points against Tommy Paul in the quarter-finals, what were you thinking in those moments and how does it feel to be holding your first ATP Tour title after coming so close to defeat?
When I was facing those match points in the quarter-finals, I wouldn’t have thought that a couple of days later I would be lifting the trophy. But it is something that I have built my brand on, I guess. It is the one thing I can control: to never say die and never quit the fight.
I was lucky that I managed to get through that one. I am really lucky. Tommy was playing some good tennis and probably deserved to win, but it is funny. Sometimes when you are so close to going out of a tournament, it is funny how quickly you can turn that around. It just goes to show you are never out of a fight until it is over.
During the ATP Tour suspension, you spoke about not wanting to stagnate as a player. How do you believe you have grown as both a player and a person this year and how satisfying is it to reach this goal after everything that has happened in 2020?
Something that I definitely wanted to do was to win an ATP Tour title. I have obviously won lots of Challengers and I have done well in Tour events and at Grand Slams, but it is a whole other thing to make that breakthrough and to win an ATP Tour title. That was definitely one of the goals, so it is very satisfying to get to that goal.
It has been a testing year and it has been a really trying year… [From] family letting me use their backyard court to do a bit of practice on during the peak of COVID-19 in Queensland to this long slog that we have experienced in this bubble lifestyle. It is not tennis as we know it, but I have appreciated everyone and their efforts for making tennis possible. Whether that is back home in the backyard or over here.
I have always looked to improve. You have to at this level. You can’t stand still. There are so many very talented players knocking on the door and you have got to continue to improve and continually get better. I think the key thing this year is to try to mentally stay with it because you can go a little bit crazy.
It has been a long trip and I haven’t been home since before [the Western & Southern Open] due to the restrictions and quarantine measures that Australia has put in place. It has been a really long trip and it is nice to get the reward after enduring a battle like that.
Could you take a moment to acknowledge some of the key figures in your life and career who have helped you to reach this milestone in your career?
It is definitely my mum and dad, for sure. They never forced me to play tennis at a young age, but they always encouraged me. They have always been such positive role models. Some of my friends and family have been unbelievable supporters and I have been lucky to have supporters outside of my friends and family that not only support you in good times like now, but in tough times when you are coming back from injury or maybe you are not winning so many matches. That, for me, is a true supporter and I have got plenty of them.
I have got to mention the missus, she has been unbelievable. It is a shame because she has been travelling a bit more with me and it is a shame she is not here this week. All the coaches I have had throughout my time, whether that is Milton Rothman or Gary Stickler back in the day when I was growing up or someone like Peter Luczak, who has been doing more weeks on the road with me recently. It is a shame he is not here, because he has been working so hard with me since [the Western & Southern Open] and putting in the hours. This is a sweet moment and I guess we will have a beer when we see each other next week in Bercy.
You were out for almost a year after shoulder surgery in 2013 and also had groin surgery in 2017. Was there a moment in your career where you thought this day might not come?
For sure. I have had two shoulder surgeries and one groin surgery. After the second shoulder surgery, I was working in the city part-time at a brokerage firm. Tennis was one of the last things on my mind and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to come back, be able to play or be able to get back to any type of level that I was at before.
I have had some really good people around me, whether it was my surgeon, my strength and conditioning coaches or my therapist. They have helped me and have really given me that confidence in myself that I could get back and I could compete at a high level. I am extremely grateful that they have taken part in this journey and I am just hopeful that I have given them some things to cheer about along the way.
We know you enjoy music and other sports. What do you consider to be your biggest passion outside of tennis and can you tell us a little bit about that interest?
My biggest passion changes. I love watching Liverpool, I love watching the Las Vegas Raiders, I love a bit of NFL. During [the pandemic], I have really enjoyed golf. One of my biggest achievements aside from winning the Astana Open was to become the C-Grade club champion at Brisbane Golf Club. My photo is up there as the C-Grade club champion. It is nothing to write home about. I have played a bit of golf during the COVID-19 period and I think it is just really important to get that release outside of tennis.