John Millman and Team Australia got in tournament transportation at 7:30am on Thursday morning. Little did they know that in the next several hours, they’d create a moment at the ATP Cup that nobody will soon forget.
Australia defeated Great Britain 2-1, but their tie was far more dramatic than the final scoreline. Great Britain’s Daniel Evans beat Alex de Minaur in a final-set tie-break in the second singles match of the day to force a deciding doubles. And after not playing doubles throughout the group stages, De Minaur and Nick Kyrgios stepped into the drama-strewn situation, saving four match points against doubles stars Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury, sending their country to the semi-finals.
There courtside through it all inside Ken Rosewall Arena was Millman. After many good shots in each of the three matches, the television camera panned to Millman and his countrymen in the Australian Team Zone, leaping out of their seats and, in some cases, out of the Team Zone to encourage those competing.
“I think that’s probably a bit more raw emotion. I think the beautiful thing about team competition is the fact that you do have a bench and obviously the crowd was creating a great atmosphere, but you do use the bench,” Millman said. “Those boys showed early that they wanted our energy, they wanted our support. So we played every point with them.”
Millman did not play a match on Thursday, but he was part of the equation. Captain Lleyton Hewitt asked him to move down a step to sit on the same bench as him.
“He told me to get down and play every point with the boys and with him,” Millman said. “To be able to be courtside next to Lleyton is something pretty special… to learn from him is something pretty special and something that I don’t take for granted.”
Kyrgios won the No. 2 singles match against Cameron Norrie in straightforward fashion, taking just 72 minutes. But the battle of De Minaur and Evans would be the longest of the tournament. Evans emerged victorious after three hours and 24 minutes.
“I thought the quality was incredible. Dan Evans played some smart and well-executed tennis and you know what you’re going to expect from Alex: he shrinks the court and moves so well and he was striking the ball beautifully,” Millman said. “It was one of those matches that I think you could say either guy could have won that match and you wouldn’t have had a problem with it.”
There was one point at which De Minaur needed help relacing his sneaker, so as Millman held De Minaur’s foot in place, Kyrgios fixed the laces. Anything the team needed, the Aussies helped one another. And while Millman wasn’t playing doubles, he had to help pump his countrymen up in the Team Room before the match following De Minaur’s loss.
“When he got back to the locker room obviously Alex was a little disappointed,” Millman said. “But I think Lleyton might have talked to Alex and Alex was ready to play some doubles.”
Australia lost the momentum after Evans’ thrilling victory. But Hewitt made a change to his line-up, replacing Chris Guccione and John Peers with De Minaur and Kyrgios.
“I think the one thing they wanted out of Alex was just to bring that energy. We have got guys that can play, and if you’re going to play we just want that energy and Alex straightaway, he hits that return winner and gives us a big come on so we knew he was present,” Millman said. “What makes him so special is his ability to bounce back and go again and that engine that he’s got is massive.
“With Nick, we kind of tossed around the idea that he might have played and he was ready to play. He wanted to play, he wanted the opportunity. I think with Nick moreso, you take probably a different approach. He’s a bit more laid back in his demeanour and you want to keep things light with him and keep them fun, so I find that really interesting.”
What followed was an epic to remember for years to come. Kyrgios and De Minaur hit back-to-back backhand return winners up the line to save one of the four match points they faced and then earn the one that they converted, when Salisbury missed a return long.
“Riding the emotions and those types of matches, it’s really hard to recreate those moments. They just happen. You don’t expect that to be the case when you wake up in the morning. You don’t know what to expect,” Millman said. “But until you actually live it, it was pretty special and they’re the ones you remember.”
What was tough for Millman was having to watch from the Team Zone. As exciting as it was, the Aussie could only watch and assist as needed. He couldn’t put a racquet in his hands and compete himself.
“I think it’s a hell of a lot easier playing, actually. When you don’t have any control over the issue, it’s tough, it’s tense and your palms are sweaty,” Millman said. “I’m just so happy that the boys managed to get through and they really deserved it. The emotions that they showed at the end were really special.”
As Millman said, it was a “massively long day”. After 6pm, following several hours in which he poured all of his emotions into helping his countrymen, Millman headed out to the practice court to strike some balls himself.
“That hit was really tough, because mentally and physically you’re just drained. It’s actually really exhausting. That was really difficult,” Millman said before reflecting on the day. “It was a really special atmosphere that the crowd created, that the team created. In a new competition like that, I think it’s really important to have some really big matches like that because they’re the ones that people will talk about for the duration of the year and then when we come back and revisit it in 2021, they’ll be the memories that people have.”