John Millman dreams big for Aussie battlers
When John Millman arrives on court to a rapturous reception from Aussies at the Australian Open in January, he has three families to thank for helping him retain his sharp edge.
Millman, who would sit alongside of John Newcombe (1970s), the head band wearing Pat Cash (1980s) and Pat Rafter (1990s) as Australia's most popular men's player of the last 50 years, spent weeks in April and May rebounding between backyard courts in Brookfield, Paddington and Chelmer while world tennis was in COVID-19 induced coma.
"A couple of families helped out and a couple were really nice backyard courts to train on actually,'' said Millman, who was unable to train at venues like the Queensland Tennis Centre because of the COVID-19 crisis.
People may ask how would Millman continuing to train in March, April and May benefit him seven months in advance of the Australian Open?
Well, we are talking about a bloke who regards every training hit as a cherished chance to polish his game.
After all, this is someone who trained last Christmas Day at tennis courts near his family's inner eastern suburbs home.
"I like to train when others are not, when they are taking the day off. It is kind of a tradition for me,'' Millman said.
When the tennis Gods handed out talent, Millman was in line but certainly not at the head of the queue.
He is the typical Aussie sporting battler who Australians love to get behind, a bloke who prides himself on having a dig, having a crack. And the sporting public love that about him.
"It is something I have to do because I rely a lot on my physicality when I play. And tennis is one of those things that, when I made that transition from junior tennis to men's tennis, I was not going to go straight to the top in the men's game.
"I likened it to an apprenticeship.
"I had a few surgeries and I really had to graft away and build my trade.
"It (digging in) is something I pride myself on.
"I just hope I represent the people who might have been written off in the past.
"I see myself as an every day Aussie and I think that is what Australians are about - going out there and giving it a crack.''
Millman was born into a tennis family and as a child he would join his four sisters at the Laffs court in Mt Gravatt.
"They would have their lessons at six-o-clock in the morning and I got the first 15 minutes at 5.45 or something,'' Millman said.
"I played competitively from a young age.
"It was one of those things that I was pretty decent at and as a kid you tend to gravitate toward the sports you are good at. So I kept on doing it.''
Millman switched from Brisbane Grammar School to Anglican Church Grammar School and into the bosom of an outstanding schoolboy tennis co-ordinator Ian Malpass who still runs the Churchie program and the courts at East Brisbane.
"I have great memories of Churchie,'' Millman said.
"I don't live far away from there now and they were the school which was the most accommodating for me to get a good education, but at the same time do enough tennis to keep my eye in so when I finished school, I could do something about this dream of mine to become a tennis player. Because a lot of people my age, they quit school or do the distance education so they can take a more full-time coach.
"I was never in any AIS programs, so that was never a problem for me.
"So I did all my schooling and Churchie were awesome,'' he said, emphasising how Malpass still gives him a rails run to use the Churchie tennis courts for training.
And when Millman does have a hit at Churchie, he does so with the aptly named Hazel Millman Courts as a backdrop.
"She (Millman's grandmother Hazel) did a lot of work for the Easts soccer club and in the community and back then those courts were owned by the football club,'' Millman said explained.
And what pride Millman's grandmother would have knowing her grandson's sweat from hard work training is all over those courts - even on Christmas Day.
Originally published as John Millman dreams big for Aussie battlers