Tales from the Tour
By John Millman
Posted October 23, 2009 19:50:00
Rising Australian tennis prospect John Millman offers the first of his blogs on his experiences as an up-and-comer on the professional tennis circuit. The 20-year-old from Brisbane is currently ranked 360 in the world after a successful recent tour of Europe, where he produced the best results of his burgeoning career.
Unlike many of the nation's young tennis stars, John chose to complete his high school education before jumping full-time into the tour. Despite some nagging injuries, John is currently competing in the busy Australian summer schedule heading into the Australian Open in January.
John's claim to fame was hitting with world number three Novak Djokovic during the Brisbane International last year and getting the better of the Serbian star in a couple of competitive tie-breaks.
A blast from the past
Another expected heat wave had hit Brisbane in the summer of 2004. Few dared to brave the steamy conditions outside.
Most sought the salvation of their air conditioned homes. A week prior I had managed to stake my claim at winning the 14/U Australian Hard-court Championships, held at University of Queensland, by far my proudest moment in my short-lived career.
Now I sat in the comfort of my lounge chair watching with awe Todd Reid the 19-year-old South Australian kid claim the biggest scalp of his career, knocking off Armenian Sargis Sargsian in a five-set, gruelling victory to progress to the third round of the Australian Open.
It was one of the gutsiest and most inspiring things I had seen on a tennis court. It moved me, just as it had the thousands watching on live at Melbourne Park. I made a promise to myself that day, a promise that one day I would be as good as Todd Reid.
Fast forward five years, the date October 15, 2009. I'm serving for the match on centre court at the Port Pirie Men's International Future event in South Australia. Going into the tournament as the second seed I was in a dog fight in my second round match. My opponent... one Todd Reid.
The conditions had been ordinary to say the least. Strong gale-force winds moved sponsor signs that had been held by concrete blocks. Rain had interrupted play on more than one occasion. It had become more of a mental battle than anything else. Who could least let the conditions affect them would probably go on to win the match.
Future events are held throughout the world, replacing the satellite system of old. They sit at the bottom of the ladder, in terms of prize money awarded and points received, behind Challengers and higher still the glamour of the ATP Tour. Despite this, they are essential in building a ranking high enough to take the step up to the next rung.
After travelling Europe, North America and Asia in the past three years I had become accustomed to the grind of the more 'realistic' professional tennis tour.
Week in, week out you travel to small, unknown towns to play in these events with the hope that one day you can build your ranking to a level where you would never have to relive the unglamorous side of tennis.
You meet all sorts of people who have devoted their lives to tennis in the hope that they too get that lucky break or manage to find their purple patch that they believe they possess.
There is the young upstarts who believe the transition from juniors to senior tennis will be made with ease. The experienced campaigners, who deep into their twenties play for the love of the game. And then there are those in-betweens who are at crossroads in their career.
Everyone at the tournament can play, everyone wants to win.
After falling from his career high 105 in the world to around 1000 due to a series of career threatening injuries, Todd still hits a great ball and on his day can beat the toughest of opponents.
Serving at 5-3 in the third set after four hours of competitive tennis I had managed to gain the upper hand. Whenever you serve for a match nerves naturally will come into play.
If anyone tells you otherwise they are probably lying. You have to embrace these feelings and use them to your advantage.
I was confident, I had played a good game to break and now I was a few points away from a significant career victory.
Ten minutes, three backhand passing shots, two forehand winners, some unreturnable serves and a couple of unforced errors later I walked off the court, a defeated man.
Todd had played some great tennis and I couldn't lift my own game. I may now be ranked higher than the former junior Wimbledon champ but still I'm yet to keep the promise I made with myself in the summer of '04.