Monday, August 17, 2015

Aussie Millman makes Aptos history with title

John Millman, posing with Comerica Bank senior vice president
Cathy Schlumbrecht, became the first No. 1 seed in the 28-year
history of the Aptos Challenger to win the singles title.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   APTOS, Calif. — There's nothing flashy about the player who made history in the $100,000 Comerica Bank Challenger on Sunday.
   John Millman, a 6-foot (1.83-meter) Australian, isn't going to blow anyone off the court with his serve or forehand.
   He doesn't wear a gaudy necklace, diamond earrings or a mohawk. He doesn't swear on the court, and he certainly doesn't insult his opponent with sexual remarks.
   In short, Millman is the opposite of his countryman Nick Kyrgios.
   Millman is all business on the court. He wears down opponents with consistency, fitness and mental toughness.
   Just ask seventh-seeded Austin Krajicek, who lost to No. 1 Millman 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 in the Comerica final at the Seascape Sports Club. Millman saved three break points while serving for the championship at 5-3 in the third set.
   "He's extremely solid," said Krajicek, a 25-year-old left-hander from Bradenton, Fla. "He makes a lot of balls. He can really control the court. He moves great. He serves well, too, so it was tough to get on offense on his service games. He doesn't give you many free points."
   Millman became the first No. 1 seed in the 28-year-history of the Aptos tournament, the longest-running Challenger in the United States, to win the title.     
   "Obviously, it's a nice feeling because the history of this tournament is quite special, but it'll probably just help out whoever is the No. 1 seed next year because they won't have to listen to that every day," cracked Millman, 26.
   "What's more special is just looking at the honor board and the people who have won this tournament. It's pretty special to know my name will be up with those types of players — Andy Murray; Chris Guccione, a good friend of mine who won the doubles today, and he's won the singles here, too; Patty Rafter ... "
   It was the second straight title for Millman, who won the $50,000 Lexington (Ky.) Challenger two weeks ago.
   "I knew I was playing some pretty good tennis coming into the match, and I think winning in Kentucky helped," Millman said. "You have a title under your belt, so everything is kind of a plus.
   "I think as the match went on, I started to feel it a little bit. It's been a long couple of weeks, and even before that I didn't have much of a break. I came from Wimbledon, and then I had Davis Cup after that. It's just been a lot of tennis, a lot of hours on court, and I probably felt a little leggy out there today, but you're not going to feel perfect every day of the week. It's just a matter of trying to excel when you're not feeling 100 percent."
Austin Krajicek, posing with Schlumbrecht, fell one set short
of earning a wild card in the U.S. Open. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Krajicek also tired in the 81-degree (27.2 Celsius) heat. In addition to playing singles, he reached the doubles semifinals. Millman did not play doubles.
   "I was still able to play at a good level late in the third and still had chances," Krajicek said, "but definitely late in the tournament playing singles and doubles, it makes it tough. I let him get on offense on way too many points, so I was running from side to side, which isn't ideal, but he came up with the goods at the end. I don't think fatigue was the reason I lost, but it didn't help."
   Both Millman, who pocketed $14,400, and Krajicek, who collected $8,480, achieved career-high rankings with their Comerica finishes. Millman jumped 14 places to No. 71 in the world. Krajicek rose 19 spots to No. 113.
   Millman is ranked high enough to play in the main draw of the U.S. Open for the first time, but Krajicek needed to win the Comerica final to earn a wild card into the year's final Grand Slam tournament.
   Instead, Bjorn Fratangelo won the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge as the American with the best results in two of three Challengers this summer: $50,000 Binghamton (N.Y.) $50,000 Lexington (Ky.) and Aptos.
   The U.S. Open is scheduled for Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
    Krajicek, who survived a match point in the first round against Dennis Novikov of Milpitas, expressed mixed feelings about falling one set short of the U.S. Open wild card.
   "It's not great, but it's cool," he said. "I had a good run, a good week. It's still a very positive week for me either way. I can take a lot of good things out of it. I'll play qualies in New York and try to battle through that."
Top-seeded Chris Guccione, right, and Artem Sitak
beat unseeded Yuki Bhambri and Matthew Ebden for
the doubles title. Guccione has won five Aptos crowns,
four in doubles and one in singles. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Millman knows all about battling. He had major shoulder surgery in July 2013 and missed nine months. Because of injuries, he no longer trains fanatically.
    "I remember I lost a match in Spain, and I served for 3 1/2 hours straight, which probably wasn't great for my shoulder," Millman said. "I used to do so much work on court, but my body probably doesn't allow that anymore. I still think I work hard, and when I feel like I need to touch up, I maybe spend a little bit longer on the court.
   "Learning from the likes of Lleyton Hewitt, I really saw at Davis Cup just how intense his sessions are, from the very first ball. It's something that I pride myself on, trying to maximize my time in terms of intensity."
   Serving as a practice partner on Australia's Davis Cup team, which rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Kazakhstan last month in Darwin, Australia, is only one of Millman's highlights this year. Playing in his hometown of Brisbane in January, he led Roger Federer by a set and a break before losing 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the second round.
   "I didn't play bad tennis after that (lead)," Millman said. "Fed played some really good tennis, and I guess that's why he's had the career that he's had.
   "I had a night match here (on Friday) with Taro Daniel, who has roots in Aptos. I was saying to (my coach, Mark Draper), 'The pressure's not the same as a night match against Federer.' You draw upon those experiences, and hopefully they'll help me for the rest of my life, not just on the tennis court but post-tennis, too." 
   Millman also won a Grand Slam main-draw match for the first time at Wimbledon, stunning then-No. 19 Tommy Robredo of Spain as a qualifier before losing to 2006 Australian Open runner-up and 2014 Aptos champion Marcos Baghdatis 6-4 in the fifth set.
   Krajicek, a distant relative of 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek, has had a strange year. As a qualifier, he reached his first quarterfinal on the ATP World Tour at Memphis in February, beating then-No. 25 Ivo Karlovic (6-foot-11 or 2.11 meters), and advanced to the second round in Miami in March. But he won only one match in 10 tournaments from April to July.
Bhambri, left, and Ebden paired for the first time in Aptos, as did
Guccione and Sitak. Photo by Paul Bauman
   The 2-hour Comerica final featured many grueling rallies as Millman and Krajicek traded powerful groundstrokes.
   The only break of the first set came in the last game. Serving at 30-30, Krajicek netted a forehand. Then on set point, he missed his first serve. Millman jumped on Krajicek's second delivery, slugging it deep for a winner and the set.
   After the players traded early breaks in the second set for 2-2, Krajicek won four straight games for the set. Millman, though, shrugged it off and bolted to a 3-0 lead (one break) in the third set.      
   "I just had to regroup," Millman said. "I probably played a couple of sloppy points in the second set, and Austin played some pretty tough tennis and didn't make many errors. He was hitting a couple of really big forehands.
   "I was determined to win. I'm really glad with the way I started off the third set — upbeat tempo, and I managed to put the momentum back in my favor, which was pivotal in winning the match."
   Both players held serve in the next five games, and Millman served for the championship at 5-3. Then it got dramatic.
   Millman fell behind 0-40 on Krajicek's run-around forehand passing shot after the longest rally of the match, eliciting a roar from the pro-American crowd of about 400 fans at the 1,200-seat Center Court.
   That gave Krajicek three break points to get back on serve at 4-5, but Millman reeled off five straight points for the title.
   "That last game, I'd prefer to win it a little bit easier," said Millman, who had only one ace in the match but only one double fault. "But I'm proud of myself for coming back from 0-40 serving for the match and winning the next five straight is pretty special."
   Millman said he gets his mental toughness from his parents, Ron and Shona.
   "My mum and dad are probably the strongest people I know, in terms of what they've sacrificed for their family. They worked four of five jobs between them to get my (four) sisters and myself through private education.
   "You learn a few things about sacrifice and working hard from those types of people. It was a real treat to have them come over and watch me play Wimbledon, and I think they'll be at the U.S. Open now."
   Top-seeded Guccione of Australia and Artem Sitak, a Russia native who plays for New Zealand, won the doubles title with a 6-4, 7-6 (2) victory over unseeded Yuki Bhambri of India and Matthew Ebden of Australia. The Comerica Challenger was the first tournament together for players on each team.
   It was Guccione's fifth Comerica title, four in doubles and one in singles. The 6-foot-7 (2.01-meter) left-hander won three straight doubles crowns with countryman Carsten Ball (2009-11) and captured the 2009 singles title.
   Guccione and Sitak split $6,200; Bhambri and Ebden shared $3,600.
   Ebden won the 2013 Australian Open mixed doubles title with Jarmila Gajdosova, who played for the Sacramento-based California Dream of World TeamTennis last month.

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