Millman the battler we need


Writing a column during the Australian Open earlier this year, John Millman said his ‘battler’ label irked him earlier in his career.

Just like the ‘journeyman’ tag for players he viewed as world class, the label was a bit simplistic. But he warmed to it.

“I’ve now actually started to embrace the term battler when I’m coming on the court,” he wrote for PlayersVoice.

“I’ve come to respect that a lot more, because I think it means that I’ve handled adversity and I’ve come out the other side of it. The Aussie battler who’s come good.”

And hasn’t he just. Yesterday’s win against Roger Federer in the fourth round of the US Open had all the hallmarks of the battler’s masterpiece. One he will (deservedly) dine out on for years.

And while the win was naturally huge for Millman and his family (he’s described travelling 10 months of the year and getting an office job while injured), it was also huge for Aussie sports fans who, truth be told, haven’t had much to celebrate on the world stage in 2018.

The only other time we’ve garnered international headlines this year was when our cricketers’ cheeky plan to gain an advantage was, unbeknown to them, caught on camera. Oh and when we welcomed a sprinter to play in our elite football (soccer) league despite having no actual talent. Compared to almost any other year, it’s been fairly dire.

But Millman rescued us with his win yesterday. He’s the battler we’ve desperately craved.
Australian sport is at its best when we’re gunning for the outsider. Think America’s Cup, Steven Bradbury, Shane Heal. Blue collar vs. white. ‘Never say die’.

And while there’s many more clichés that roll off the tongue, it’s when we’re at our best. And when it comes off as a victory (rather than a gallant defeat), it’s all the more sweeter.

Tennis is arguably the sport where the battler shines brightest. Staying in the point as long as possible creates a greater chance that your opponent will hit one long, wide or into the net. And that’s exactly what Millman does.

And while we’re not going to launch into a Dawn Fraser tirade about how un-Australian Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic are, it’s a simple fact that defence and endurance aren’t their trademarks. Those who go way beyond what is expected of them are the ones we celebrate the most.

Millman’s win, and the rise of Alex di Minaur and Ash Barty suddenly has Australian tennis back in the headlines for all the right reasons. Just like Lleyton Hewitt before them, the three have no discernible ‘weapons’ on the court, but fight like crazy to get the ball back.

And in the end, that’s all we want, don’t we?

If you fancy Millman to continue his giant-killer run, he’s currently $11 to knock off Novak Djokovic on Thursday. (Odds subject to change)

What do you think?