Millman back in practice after backyard tennis in pandemic

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA (AP) — Just four matches after losing his five-setter against Roger Federer at the Australian Open, John Millman was having to scramble to find a practice court.

It’s not like he was suddenly an unknown to Aussie tennis fans. More a case of making himself at home as the coronavirus pandemic forced athletes everywhere to think outside of the box.

The professional tennis tours have been suspended. His regular practice venue at the Queensland Tennis Centre, which hosts the season-opening Brisbane International, was shuttered during the lockdown because of strict social distancing restrictions.

So, Millman went the social route, playing on backyard courts that belonged to people he sometimes was meeting for the first time.

“It was awesome — really good fun,” he said. “I had a couple of lovely families that welcomed me in and allowed me to keep my eye in. It was really nice. Stuck to the (social distancing) protocols, of course, so we were ticking all those boxes.”

File photo shows John Millman shaking hands with Roger Federer following their match at the Australian Open tennis championship. PHOTO: AP

Queensland’s National Academy Manager Chris Mahony organised for 12 professional players including Millman to have fitness equipment shipped to their homes and for them to maintain contact with trainers via digital and other means. He also organised a half-dozen courts owned by people from within the academy network where players could practice.

Then Millman widened the network to his fan base.

“I think Johnny said something in one of his newspaper articles and before he knew it, he had people contacting him and offering courts,” Mahony said.

With Australian authorities managing to contain the spread of the virus, the local lockdown is being eased gradually and some sports venues are reopening for practice.

So Millman and Co were back at work yesterday in the shadows of Pat Rafter Arena.

The 30-year-old Millman has seen the highs of lows of being a tennis pro, from reaching the United States (US) Open quarterfinals in 2018 after a win over then second-ranked Federer that continued with his run into the Top 40 in the rankings, to playing in the lower tiers “for a couple of hundred bucks a round” after returning from surgeries.

Despite having only 12 competitive matches in 2020, including a grinding four-hour third-round loss to Federer on the centre court at the Australian Open in January, Millman is in no rush for the tours to resume until it is safe for players, staff and officials.

He’s proposing instead some domestic team events in Australia to keep players occupied and give local tennis fans more of a look at Australian talent while international travel bans are in play.