It is undoubtedly the strangest major of John Millman’s grand slam career, but the Queenslander insists there should be no asterisk attached to the US Open.
Cosseted away in a biosecurity bubble in a Long Island hotel, Millman will contest his 29th major in circumstances warped by COVID-19, leaving players to spend almost all of their waking hours in each other’s company.
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John Millman has expressed frustration at critics of the 2020 US Open field. Picture: Angus Mordant for NewsCorp AustraliaSource:News Corp Australia
“The strangest aspect of the bubble is probably when you do play the US Open, you’re normally staying in Manhattan, going out for dinners, really feeling the vibrant city that is New York City, especially when you’re staying in Manhattan,” Millman said.
“Staying in the bubble, you’re constantly seeing the players, you’re having dinner at the hotel every night, so you’re constantly in and around the players, so you don’t get that release.
“The location of the hotel on Long Island is completely different to what we’re normally used to in Manhattan.
“We’re kind of in the middle of nowhere. They’ve done that on purpose, we don’t really leave here. There’s lot of security enforcing that we do stay in the bubble, which is necessary right now.”
In the absence of world No 1 Ash Barty, 2011 champion Sam Stosur and Nick Kyrgios, Millman is one of 10 Australians in the main draw.
The rugged baselines says, for all the changes wrought by the pandemic, the US Open retains a familiar feeling.
“It does feel like a slam. It definitely helps that we’re here at Flushing Meadows, one of the more iconic places,” he said.
“Whenever you walk through those gates you get the feeling you’re about to play in one of the big tournaments.
“The general consensus among the players is that it does feel like a slam despite the bubble lifestyle.”
Despite the decisions of defending champion Rafael Nadal — one of eight men from the top-50 to miss the tournament — and reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep — one of 15 leading women to bypass it — Millman says asterisk connotations are unfair.
“It’s not that fair, the Asterisk Open,” he said.
“All the players had the choice to come here and I think the USTA (US Tennis Association) — even though I was apprehensive at first — they have created a really safe and comfortable environment for the players.
“Everyone had the choice to come and play and it was their decision not to. So I don’t think it is absolutely that fair, just because some of our top players aren’t playing.
“I think it creates a really exciting grand slam, especially on the men’s side where there probably has been the monotony of the same guys, the Big Three or Five, going deep in these tournaments and going on to win the tournament.
“You can only beat who’s ahead of you in a tournament. This should count as any other slam.”
Millman said lightning conditions in the Flushing Meadows bubble enhance Novak Djokovic’s chances of notching an 18th major while maintaining his unbeaten 2020 record.
“Conditions are quick this year, the general consensus among the players is that this is probably the fastest US Open we’ve had for a fairly long time,” Millman said.
“This is probably the fastest slam in the world in recent times. The balls are coming through really fast, especially when the sun is out on the outside courts. They’re very quick.
“The guys that counterpunch really well, guys like Novak, are going to be super competitive.
“Guys like (Roberto) Bautista Agut, (Daniil) Medvedev are going to be extremely tough to beat. Guys who generally take good court position and use the speed of the court to counterpunch. Djokovic is the class player in the field and he’s the one to beat.”
Millman is wary ahead of his clash with Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.
John Millman and Novak Djokovic argue a point during the 2018 US Open. Picture: Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesSource:AFP
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“You can just see from his results when he’s firing, he can go on and win the tournament. He’s won Hamburg, a 500, he’s won Beijing, which is a very competitive 500 event,” Millman said.
“He’s a guy who hits the cover off every single ball.
“On these quicker surfaces, I’m going to have to do a really good job of counterpunching and weathering the storm with good depth because this guy can hit winners from anywhere.
“If you drop it short, he can expose you.
“I’ll have to accept the fact, he’s going to play some really big tennis and it’s taken out of your hands a little bit but if I can hang around long enough — it’s a best of five-set match — I can make it competitive and give myself a chance to progress.”
Originally published asMillman: Don’t stick an asterisk on US
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