John Millman’s US Open odyssey is over following a sapping quarter-final loss to Serbian superstar Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic downed Millman 6-3 6-4 6-4 in a drama-charged war of attrition to end the unseeded Australian’s gallant run and reach his 11th semi-final in New York.
With Millman making headlines for his stirring fourth-round triumph over Roger Federer, the Australian was able to drag Djokovic out of his comfort zone with some incredible retrieving on another steamy night at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
After the match, the 29-year-old Queenslander said he hopes his against-the-odds tale inspires a whole new generation of players in Australia.
“The support has been overwhelming back home. I’m very appreciative of it. I just encourage anyone who’s maybe been inspired about our game to get out there and pick up a racquet, give it a go,” he said.
“In a day or two’s time I’ll be yesterday’s news… there’s a lot of things happening that I reckon’s more important than hitting a tennis ball” – John Millman pic.twitter.com/zPc9oDhrNi
— Charles Croucher (@ccroucher9) September 6, 2018
He plans on splashing out on his family after collecting the biggest pay cheque of his career.
In addition to a rankings rise from 55th to a projected 37th in the world, Millman will bank $US475,000 ($A660,000) after claiming Federer’s prized scalp en route to the last eight of a grand slam for the first time.
One of the most popular players on the tour, despite having only accrued modest earnings during an injury-plagued 12-year pro career, Millman plans on sharing the spoils with his nearest and dearest.
“I’ve thought about that. I know the folks are going away on an overseas trip at the end of the year. Hopefully I can throw a bit of money their way to make it a little bit more enjoyable,” Millman said.
“Mum, dad, Shona my oldest sister, Rob her husband and their two little kids are going to be in Europe, so hopefully I’d love to give them a little treat over there.”
Just like Federer two nights earlier against Millman, Djokovic looked in distress as Millman toiled valiantly to turn the match into a physical endurance test.
But the 13-time major winner’s class ultimately told, gaining a decisive break in each set to advance to a last-four meeting with rejuvenated 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori.
Despite the straight-sets scoreline, Djokovic admitted he needed to dig deep to keep Millman at bay and eventually prevail after two hours and 49 minutes.
“I was struggling, he was struggling, we were all sweating,” Djokovic said.
“I was just trying to hang in there and try to find a way to win the match. But definitely it was not easy conditions to play in.
Full credit for John for putting up a great battle. He’s truly a great fighter.”
Millman indeed took the fight to the reigning Wimbledon champion in a showdown featuring the last two players to topple Federer this season.
Just as he did against Federer, Millman dropped the opening service game of the match to fall behind 3-0.
And as against Federer, that was enough to lose the first set after Djokovic benefited from a lucky net cord and then fought off a break point in the final game to serve the set out.
The two combatants received a standing ovation after one spectacular rally in the opening game of the second set, with even Rupert Murdoch rising from his seat.
The lung-busting rallies were appearing to take their toll on Djokovic.
Upon missing a gimme volley – after Millman retrieved a lob with some incredibly scrambling – and then pushing a return wide, Djokovic staggered back into position before tipping water over his head at the changeover.
There was more drama three games later as Millman left the court “to change his attire due to the humid conditions”.
The USTA later released a statement, saying he was allowed because the excessive sweat on the court could have proved hazardous.
After saving 11 of 12 break points, Millman wasn’t able to fend off a 13th as Djokovic delivered a hammer blow to snatch the second set and leave Millman facing tennis’s version of mission impossible.
Djokovic had won all 183 of his grand slam matches in which he’d enjoyed a two-sets-to-love lead.
But there was one final twist, the former world No.1 dropped serve for the only time after receiving successive shot-clock violations and then dragged a forehand wide to allow Millman to level up the third set.
But, not to be denied, Djokovic broke straight back to take the match to enhance his perfect semi-final record in New York to 11 from 11.
Millman will have little time to celebrate his watershed week.
He will fly to Europe less than 24 hours after his Open exit to lead Australia into Davis Cup battle against Austria starting on Friday week.