Millman's rocky road to slam spotlight

Darren Walton
John Millman will play the biggest match of his career on Wednesday in the US Open quarter-final

From the tennis backwaters of Busan and Bucharest to the brightest of lights in New York, John Millman has endured it all.

He's suffered through the nightmares and now he's living the dream.

"It's been a long journey," Millman told AAP as he not so much basked in the glory of his stunning US Open win over Roger Federer but steeled himself for his next colossal challenge: Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals on Wednesday night (Thursday 11am AEST).

The 29-year-old's road to the grand slam centre stage at Flushing Meadows has been anything but smooth.

The darkest moment, Millman recalls, of a tumultuous career that has taken him to tennis hell and back came in 2008.

Millman was 18, ranked 1664th in the world and trying to make ends meet. Whatever it took.

"Pitesti in Romania I really struggled with," he said.

"I drove for ages through cane fields. I thought I was going to get mugged or something. It was really dodgy."

Then there was his reluctant return to Gimcheon after the second of his career-saving shoulder reconstructions in 2014.

That was the pits. He'd vowed never, ever to go back.

But he had to.

"I played some very good places in South Korea before, but I said I was going to probably avoid going to Gimcheon again. I had some pretty bad experiences there," Millman said.

"But coming back from shoulder surgery, I looked at the schedule at where I could go that wasn't foo far away from Australia and I saw four $10, 000 Futures events.

"Now $10,000 Futures are the lowest of the low.

"So I rocked up to Gimcheon and I got there and thought: 'What am I doing?' And it was on my (25th) birthday.

"I got to the quarters but after my first win I got what you call an instability episode where your shoulder, because it hasn't got that conditioning, it pops out and then pops back in.

"So before the quarters, I was: 'See you guys, I'm out of here. I've got to fix up this shoulder.'"

Then he started all over again, Millman's ranking spiralling outside the top 1000 again.

With no promises, only doubts, Millman feared he'd never make it back on tour, let alone scale such heights as Monday night's glorious triumph over Federer at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

As insurance, he completed a university degree and worked a day day job in finance to pay the bills.

"It hasn't come too easy for me and it's very cliche but this is why you play: to be competing at these famous tournaments," the Queenslander said.

"It's not for the money. It's for the opportunity to play these historic events.

"It's rewarding when you play good tennis and it's even more rewarding when you've had your struggles.

"We all know that's been documented. I don't really like to harp on it too much, but it does feel more rewarding when you have your struggles and you work really hard and the guys around you work really hard to get you back and you can do it for them a little bit."

Few in tennis have worked harder than Millman.

Even Federer knows it. It's why the grand master invited Millman to Switzerland before Wimbledon this year to practise for the grass-court season.

"We were looking for somebody who was a great guy, who could train hard, maybe (who) was looking also for a place to come to and practice on the grass or hard courts with me before Stuttgart," Federer said glowingly after his gut-wrenching loss to Millman.

"He was like: 'Yeah, absolutely, I'm ready to come.'

"We had a great few days, a good time together."

Federer, and deep down even Millman, could barely have envisaged what was to unfold three months later.

"It's probably taken me a lot longer to crack it at this level," Millman said.

"I've done the hard yards through the Futures tours, through the Challenger tours.

"It took me a long time and I'm sure there were times during those tournaments where I questioned whether I really wanted it.

"But it makes you really appreciate these moments even more."