John Millman scored an unlikely victory over Roger Federer at the US Open in 2018, but it seems implausible that he would be able to repeat the feat when they face off in the third round of the Australian Open on Friday.
Federer vs Millman is live from Melbourne on Friday 24 January at 8.30pm local/9.30am GMT
Federer leads the overall head-to-head with Millman 2-1 but the match everybody remembers was their fourth-round US Open clash from a year and a half ago, during which Federer, struggling with the humidity and uncharacteristically sweaty, hit ten double faults and made 77 unforced errors in the course of the 6-3, 5-7, 6-7(7), 6-7(3) defeat.
Looking back on that US Open match, Federer said:
‘I think it was a combination of many things that went wrong for me on that day, plus the opponent was ready and tough as nails.
‘I almost lost to him in Brisbane, as well, the first time I played against him. He’s from this country, so naturally it’s also going to be a different intensity. I think this is going to be a good test for me.’
Federer said during a post-match interview after setting up Friday’s clash with Millman that he had almost passed out after that US Open match. But he certainly hasn’t looked remotely hot and bothered in Melbourne so far. Despite not playing a warm-up tournament after taking part in a series of exhibitions across South America during the off-season, Federer opened with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over American veteran Steve Johnson, before disposing of Filip Krajinovic in similarly summary fashion. After an absurdly one-sided first set, a sloppy service game from Federer allowed Krajinovic to briefly level the second set at 4-4, but he was swiftly broken again and Federer served out for a two-sets lead. Krajinovic, who seemed to be ailing after playing a long match the day before (postponed from Monday due to rain) saw the doctor during the third set, but there was no remedy for his opponent and Federer ran out a 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 winner.
It wasn’t quite the pristine performance he had put in against Johnson, but Federer still hit a highlight’s worth reel of winners, broke Krajinovic’s supposedly big serve seven times and served 14 aces on his way to the 92-minute win.
This is the 21st consecutive year that Federer has reached the third round at the Australian Open, and the six-time champion has won 17 of the 20 third-round matches he has played, with his last defeat at this stage in Melbourne coming in 2015 to Italian veteran Andreas Seppi in four sets.
Could lightning strike twice for Millman on Friday?
Best known for his win over Federer, Millman ranked as high as world no. 33 in October 2018 in the aftermath of that surprise US Open quarterfinal run. He was unlucky enough to draw Rafael Nadal in the first round of the 2019 US Open, effectively putting paid to his chances of defending his points (Nadal won in very straight sets), and his ranking slipped to world no. 94, but Millman was immediately able to begin turning things around by dropping to Challenger level to play and win in Kaohsiung. That got him back up to world no. 80, and then Millman not only qualified for the main draw at the Rakuten Japan Open, but went on a great run all the way to the final of the 500-level event. He got extremely lucky with the draw, but he still had to beat some quality opponents on fine form and his run to the second ATP Tour final of his career, where he finished runner-up to Novak Djokovic, saw him break back into the top 50 by the end of the year.
Currently ranked world no. 47, Millman has already recorded two wins over top-25 opponents so far this year, beating world no. 21 Felix Auger-Aliassime at the ATP Cup and then world no. 16 Karen Khachanov on his way to the quarterfinals of the ASB Classic in Auckland, before losing a three-setter to Benoit Paire.
This is only the second time Millman has made the third round of his home major, and he’s done so by beating two in-form opponents: Auckland champion Ugo Humbert, and 31st seed Hubert Hurkacz, who was 7-1 in 2020 coming into the clash. Both are impressive servers, and to have beaten them suggests that Millman is in fine form.
Looking ahead to the Federer clash, Millman said:
‘Regardless of the score, at the end of the day, I’ll go out there and leave it all out there. If lightning strikes twice, I wouldn’t say no to it. You don’t play sport to not want these moments. Home slam against someone like Roger, it’s pretty cool.’
Federer disposed of Millman 7-6(1), 6-3 on grass in Halle last June, but there is obviously something about Millman’s game – the two have been practice partners – which he finds more difficult than that of some opponents. Millman’s fitness was the difference between the two in those unusual conditions at the US Open, but it would take more than Melbourne heat (and smoke) for lightning to strike twice. I can see Federer winning in straight sets to book his place in the last 16 on Friday.